Is Shara Worden the female Peter Gabriel? Consider: her songs are serious and meticulously put together, but also quirky and fun. In concert, she loves costumes and wry theatrics. And she’s an accomplished composer of indie classical music. Then there’s the matter of that exquisite voice (Worden also gets props for teaching Elisa Flynn – one of the best folk noir songwriters of recent years – how to unleash a similarly luminous voice). Worden and her kinetic, woodwind-driven art-rock band My Brightest Diamond have a new album, This Is My Hand – streaming at NPR – and a monster world tour coming up, with a stop at Bowery Ballroom on Sept 25 at 9. Advance tix are $20 and very highly recommended.
.While the album traces the arc of a doomed romance, the music is usually anything but gloomy. Worden may be best known as a singer, but she’s an elite songwriter, the songs here veering between seamlessly polished, new wave-inflected pop and gusty art-rock. Flurries of marching band drum rudiments, punchy horn charts and bubbly woodwind flourishes punctuate Worden’s pensive yet kinetic tunesmithing.
She channels her inner soul sister on the album’s opening track, Pressure, an emphatically bouncy tune that contrasts tinkly keys with a bluesy synth bassline, rising to an unexpected ending. With a playfulness that brings to mind Nicole Atkins, Before the Words is sort of a triumph of the organic over the techy and cheesy, the orchestra mounting a sneak attack on the woozy keybs and eventually taking over.
Worden’s ripe, wounded vocals and imagistic lyrics bring to mind another great art-rocker, Serena Jost, on the title track: after a rousing orchestral coda, the way that Worden backs off just a hair when she gets to the song’s punchline will give you goosebumps. On the trickly rhythmic, new wave-ish Lover Killer, Worden hitches an ominous lyric to perky brass and a funky rhythm section that gets funkier as it goes along.
A mashup of Philly soul and indie classical, I Am Not the Bad Guy is the album’s most minimalist number: midway through, she runs her vocals through a watery Leslie speaker effect for extra menace. The contrasts continue throughout Looking At the Sun, knottily kinetic verse paired off with a soaring, lush chorus, the music perfectly matching the push-pull tension of Worden’s lyrics. The album’s longest song, Shape is a kaleidoscope of polyrhythms, keys and vocal overdubs: “You never know how I may appear, first time unlike the wind, next time like a storm,” warns Worden. “I know prismatic!” is the tag out of the chorus – and does she ever!
So Easy brings to mind glossy 80s pop bands like ABC, juxtaposing echoey electric piano, chilly string synths and a dancing pulse against Worden’s angst-fueled narrative. Resonance sounds like an artsy update on a well-worn Soft Cell theme, with more tricky rhythms, big orchestral swells and layers of vocal harmonies. The album ends with its darkest, most ethereal song, Apparition: “You were a spoiled child, your careless hand is dropping,” Worden accuses. “The leaves will smoke with perfumed stars.” It’s a powerful payoff, considering all the angst that’s been building up to it.