When Carol Lipnik put out her album Almost Back to Normal in 2015, little did anyone know how profoundly prophetic it would become seven years later. Awash in waves of neoromantic piano, water imagery and allusive references to disasters of oceanic proportions – Fukushima, Hurricane Sandy, massive oil spills – it’s no less relevant now. At the same time. what a coincidence that the planets would be continuing their slow transit into a long-foretold Aquarian Age.
Since the mid-teens, Lipnik has not exactly been idle on the recording front. The woman widely regarded as the most spectacular singer in New York has a grand total of three new albums scheduled for release this year. The first is Goddess of Imperfection, streaming at Bandcamp. In keeping with Lipnik’s earlier work, there’s plaintiveness and mysticism along with her trademark phantasmagoria and moments of sly wit.
What’s new here is that for the first time, Lipnik has engaged a lot of her favorite artists in a series of collaborations. The album’s first two tracks are co-writes with another dramatic singer, Tareke Ortiz. As a child growing up in Coney Island, Lipnik was haunted by the sound of the wind swirling around the Astro Tower, reflected in the first track, Aeolian Tower Lullaby. Pianist Matt Kanelos shifts from a meticulously articulated, pointillistic glimmer to a stately waltz, matched by Lipnik’s sober, wintry metaphors.
Lipnik reaches for her signature poignancy, soaring through her four-octave range over Kyle Sanna’s wary, lingering reverb guitar, Kanelos’ rippling piano and Jacob Lawson’s strings in the imploringly rapturous title cut.
She reinvents Wildegeeses. by cult favorite freak-folk songwriter Michael Hurley as elegant, spare art-rock, Sanna’s sparse, resonant guitar mingling with Kanelos’ darkly circling piano. The Poacher, the first of two collaborations with David Cale is one of Lipnik’s best and most metaphorically-loaded mystery narratives, Kanelos’ gracefully bounding piano anchoring the lush Elizabethan ambience.
The slow antiwar anthem Nonviolent Man. a big concert favorite by Kanelos, packs more of a political wallop than ever, Lipnik’s unflinching, plainspoken delivery over steady, understated art-rock. Her expansive, psychedelic, bluesy reinvention of the title track to her early zeros album Hope Street hits just as hard: Lipnik’s vocals, from muted, flinty, Nina Simone-esque angst, to aching, fullblown angst, will give you chills.
A History of Kisses, the second co-write with Cale, follows a typical Lipnik dichotomy, playfulness juxtaposed with a brooding melancholy over Kanelos’ steady, restrained 6/8 rhythm. The album’s most symphonic cut is Ride on the Light of the Moon: spooky vocals notwithstanding, it’s ultimately about a triumph of the soul. Lipnik closes the record optimistically with Love, a psychedelic trip-hop number: “A beast breathes fire in and out, in and out of your sleepy paradise,” she observes. “Which side will you see when the hawk hunts the sparrow?”
It’s been a slow year for artists outside the ever-tightening orbit of subsidized recording projects, but more and more people are resurfacing. If this understatedly breathtaking project is any indication, Lipnik’s next scheduled release, Blue Forest – scheduled for this June – is also something to keep your eye on.