LA singer-songwriter Juliette Commagere has an interesting string of earlier collaborations behind her, a respected debut solo album, and now a fascinating follow-up on the LA experimental label, Manimal. The artist is well-connected, with Ry Cooder as her father-in-law and percussionist husband Joachim Cooder as her musical sidekick. From its cover art, The Procession looks intriguing enough. The singer is naked except for an enormous Mayan headpiece, pictured at a safe distance, clambering over uncomfortable rocks while the typography says Victorian Gothic. Its your call whether this is a metaphor for the journey of life or just art for arts sake.
The album begins with Eats From The Inside, a striking tone poem decorated with throbbing synth loops, punctuated by eighties-like drum crashes. The vocals range from half-spoken to impassioned swoops and soarings, making the song one that begs you to sit up and listen. Impact has Commagere sounding uncannily like Imogen Heap in its higher register moments and certainly operating in very similar territory. The pair share commonality in the way they structure songs and also a certain dexterity on that oddest of hybrid instruments, the keytar. Here Commageres voice, double-tracked or self-harmonizing, drifts effortlessly through the song like a pair of rare birds.
This record is charming and beguiling, a sort of easy listening but on a higher, more ethereal plane. Its charm is hypnotic, drawing in the listener and washing over to leave an impression of a tide on sand. The album has its quieter, less demanding songs like You and Glass but an equal number of high spots. Plantsong is a simple celebration of nature with grandeur added by Jon Hassells uniquely commanding brass. How I Look For You embraces much more of a pop feel with a broad, hooky chorus bursting through the eerie verses and quaint instrumental breaks. Foreigner chugs along with an oriental vibe, reminiscent of 80s dreamy synth merchants like Japan.
The title track is a classic builder morphing into power balladry, while the supremely melodic Hovering In The Wings and the eight-and-a-half minute closer Animal properly hit the tour-de-force scale. Throughout, the artists lyrics have a erudite quality to them that is suggestive of depth of meaning yet also work for their sound value alone– dare I say it, along the lines of Yes! You can even imagine Jon Anderson singing some of these songs, most particularly Hovering In The Wings, and it would not sound out of place. The music here is often surreal and always intensely atmospheric, but the brooding moments are balanced by bursts of pop energy and pure, expressive melody.
Animal seems to celebrate the most primal urges of procreation and birth, and sees Commagere at her breathy best against a chiming, pulsating, and at times symphonic backcloth. It’s indulgently extended, perhaps, but glorious for it. Like many free-spirited artists, Juliette Commagere seems to use her music as a vehicle for expressing the vagaries of life: How we balance the bits we try to direct or influence with those lost to fate, how the hearts craving reconciles itself with the bodys journey. At times blissful and almost always beautiful, Commagere makes a fair fist of this mission impossible on The Procession, and if you forgive the Imogen Heap parallel, its a pretty original take on what occupies most of us, consciously or less conspicuously.