Album Review – Chastity Brown “Silhouette of Sirens”

Chastity Brown’s latest album, Silhouette of Sirens, is fierce. When I say that, I mean that it’s reflective of a whole range of emotions–heartache, vulnerability, anger, longing–that, taken together, develop a sense of honesty and strength that runs through the record. She is the type of singer who can perfectly match her vocals to the emotional depth of the lyric and melody, airy and light one moment, raspy and powerful the next.

Drive Slow,” the first song, sets the tone for the album, with Brown wringing out the chorus: “Drive slow, I don’t really want to miss. / What is even happening? One can only guess.” The instrumentation on the song varies from a full band to just a fingerpicked guitar with a hum of organ in the background and back again. This sense of movement follows through the record; in most of the songs, Brown explores shifting emotions, not single feelings.

 


 
The lyrics are spare and offer just enough to draw the shape of the relationships and situations Brown evokes and she leaves plenty of space for the listener to bring his or her experience to the song as well. “Carried Away” is a great example, as Brown starts the song in her lower register: “Can’t get the key in the door fast enough, / Feels like someone coming from behind to shove,” and this sense of panic and mistrust gives way to the chorus, “You get carried away, then you fall,” sung in an almost falsetto. Throughout the song, Brown repeats the lines “Look what you did to my heart,” using different inflections to communicate disbelief, betrayal, anger, and hurt. The lyrics for the whole song probably fit on half a page; you get a long and complicated story in a short amount of time, which is the trick of great songwriting in general, I suppose.
 
Whisper,” might be my favorite song on the record. “Won’t you whisper in my ear all that you want to / Won’t you whisper in my ear all that you need,” she sings and it reminds me so much of how Nina Simone would bend notes on songs like, “In The Dark,” or, “Sugar In My Bowl.” It’s not that Brown’s voice reminds me of Nina; it’s that she is able to, on “Whisper” and on other tracks like “My Stone,” perfectly hit the right note, even when the right thing to do is to let her voice crack a little bit, and fulfill the song.

 


 
Lies,” is a bluesy ballad, inspired in part by residents in Detroit who were promised pensions, only to have that promise broken. The politics are not overt in the song; however, when you know the context, you can see Brown’s ability to get to the visceral feeling of this terrible deception. Equally reminiscent of Nina (but also bell hooks or Angela Davis), Brown has said, “Just being a person of color, a queer woman of color for that matter, is freaking political. I don’t even have to say anything. I just leave my house, and that’s a statement.”

If you can’t tell by this point, I love this album. Fans of Brittany Howard’s voice (Alabama Shakes) will find someone who can go toe-to-toe, when it comes to vocal power. What Brown brings to the music is the knowledge that a whisper can be just as devastating and powerful as a howl.
 
Photo Credit: Nate Ryan

Top