Maria Taylor has spent her career in camaraderie and collaboration. Darting from the old day job as half of Azure Ray alongside Orenda Fink to deliver multi-instrumental and vocal favours to the likes of Bright Eyes, Now It’s Overhead and the mighty Crooked Fingers, Taylor has become a Saddle Creek stalwart who has also managed to glean acclaim for her delicate, sepia-soaked solo outings.
Taylor celebrates the ultimate collaboration here on Something About Knowing – her new, world-tilting experience as a first time parent colours much of the record, largely with joy and optimism, but also with teeth-clenching cuteness and cliché.
Displaying an incredible knack for a tune on the beguiling, half-whispered opener “Folk Song Melody”, it’s nimbus-light touch is reminiscent of some of the finer moments of Eleanor Friedberger with occasional memory flashes of Father John Misty’s debut, even the occasional ear pricked towards Iron and Wine. “You can’t be free until you’re ready/I got lucky you see” coos Taylor’s lilting, falsetto-reaching voice and we’re given the first indication of the overwhelming lyrical theme and tone of the album – heart-swelling optimism with foundations built on the joy of parenthood.
“Tunnel Vision” is home to an opening sample of a baby crying followed by an horrendous Florence (yes, that Florence)-style wordless tribal chant that somehow recovers it’s senses long enough to recreate the halcyon days of “Dreams”-era Fleetwood Mac. It becomes lovely, though grates every single time it reverts to that head-slumping chant.
There’s more baby talk on “Sum Of Our Lives” (you see where this is going now?) as well as a phone advert intro and lyrics like “Thank you for a new beginning”. Were it not for a crunching A-ha electro drum beat the whole endeavour might float away, an unpegged circus tent of whimsy.
The real fingernail remover here though is the title track, for it is the sound of a vast dispenser of saccharine sweeteners being popped into our throats relentlessly for nearly four minutes. We may actually choke on lines like “I heard the sweetest voice call me mommy” and a list of things Taylor finds add up to “everything” including a copy of Revolver, her five-string guitar and a dog.
On the bright side (and there is one) Mike Mogis’ occasionally AOR-leaning production brings out the most in the carefully considered instrumentation – ‘Saturday In June’s steel pedal for instance, or the curious, compelling strangeness conducted on the closing song, titled (sigh) ‘Lullaby For You’ which is lifted into the ether-epic with flourishes of electronica and Taylor’s ever-beguiling voice.
Summing up the album succinctly is “Broken Objects” which offers a beautiful organ refrain, Taylor delivering open-hearted lines like “Be grateful for the sunshine beating down upon your face” but suddenly morphs into a meandering, sickly little jig. The promise held and the disappointment delivered balance either side of the scale but ultimately that offers little satisfaction.
While it would be cruel to compare this release to sitting through 40 minutes of a stranger showing you baby pictures, that might be the most potent warning for those unaware of what awaits them here. Well-presented, sometimes beautiful but all-too often tiresome and repetitive, Taylor is a considerable talent but that is not best implemented on this release. Perhaps a future collaboration with someone willing to hide the sugar in the cupboard would show some wisdom.