Moody, Tuneful Chamber Pop from Kristin Hoffmann
For the last several years, singer/composer Kristin Hoffmann has held down a monthly Saturday night residency at Caffe Vivaldi in the west village. For those who might not be familiar with her career, that’s her home base when she’s not touring the world, supplying music for Bella Gaia, NASA’s spaceflight simulation project, advocating for ocean conservation or creating music therapy pieces. Although she hardly shies away from real-world concerns, her moody chamber-pop songs tend to be more inward-directed, blending neoromantic piano, terse lyrics and Hoffmann’s nuanced, sometimes delicate, sometimes explosive vocals. Her latest project is a towering, epic, symphonic collaboration with composer Marco Missinato, titled Unfolding Secrets: A Symphony of the Heart. She and her collaborator will be playing the album release show for that one on her birthday, October 10 at 8 at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow St. in the west village; tix are a ridiculously cheap $10.
Her latest solo album is titled The Human Compass, with more of the intimate, pensive songwriting that’s become Hoffmann’s drawing card. Many of the songs sway along on a slow trip-hop beat, introduced on the opening track, The Magic, with its moody minimalist piano, harmonica and what sounds like a Middle Eastern dumbek drum loop. Hoffmann keeps the trip-hop going with Let Go, which reaches for gothic grand guignol with an apprehensive piano loop, string synth and a choir of vocals on the chorus. Ghosts maintains the misterioso pulse, creepy glockenspiel joining the slinky groove midway through: Hoffmann’s alllusive lyrics are similarly enigmatic and draw you in.
Light and Smoke brings the gothic angst back over ominously opaque yet insistent piano, a muted cry for some kind of hope worth holding onto: “All of these years are passing like a train track running to nowhere,” Hoffmann broodingly observes. Begin Again is a pick-up-the-pieces-and-move-on number, followed by Re-Entry, which sets a searching lyric that wouldn’t be out of place in a Moody Blues song to sweeping, ethereal space-pop with some spine-tingling vocal harmonies.
Between the Veils opens with hypnotic, bell-like piano and nebulous string synth, rising to an angst-ridden, imploring crescendo. It Sings in You goes in a warmer direction, an art-rock lullaby with elegantly ornamented piano. The album ends with The Wind Song, its wary piano and wordless vocals hinting at the majestic heights that Hoffmann hits on her forthcoming symphonic album. The only dud here is a guitar song that doesn’t sound like anything of the other tracks – it might be a cover. So who is the audience for this? Fans of pensive, introspective, classically-tinged songwriting…and whatever’s left of the goths of the 80s and 90s.