Renata Leuffen – In Circles – Album Review
I think it’s only fair to say…it’s been one of our stranger days reviewing music here today at the ol’ studio now hasn’t it? We’re going to keep the weird & wonderful going here with an album released just at the tail end of 2014, In Circles by Renata Leuffen. Having a look through her pages and social media, you’ll find incredible accomplishments, devout faith up to and including a picture with Pope John Paul II in 1990, and music that has truly allowed herself to channel another avenue of her own creativity, determination and commitment to education. She has overcome a great deal of personal tragedy in her life…a truly inspiring human-being who has managed to persevere and maintain her incredible spirit.
Musically speaking…this is a little bit of a tough sell. On the one hand, you can complement and praise Renata for the freedom she presents in her work; clearly Renata is doing what she does because she truly loves to do it…you know I respect that. On the other hand…the combinations of how this all comes together can be both a little jarring and a little strange. And if there’s a third hand involved, or someone can lend one real quick…there are also some innovative moments that truly work really well.
This free-flowing avant-garde, artistic style certainly attempts to go in all different directions, tones and atmospheres, but always maintains the spoken-word & slight-melodies of Renata keeping the album cohesive in that element. Is she perfection in her singing or note choice? No! Is that the point? I don’t think that it is really. I think Renata represents a freedom in music…a music voiced by someone that maybe at one point never thought this side-career moonlighting as a musician would be possible. Proving that it is possible, and that all ideas in music are accepted by someone out there; these unique songs each have an interesting life of their own.
Where it can be a little confusing is in the combination. Take the first song for instance…”In Circles,” the album’s title-track; this particular song…the way that it’s mixed together, it actually sounds like she’s singing entirely overtop of another existing song. If the intention is that these two are supposed to be together and working side by side, that’s definitely lost in the listening. At first, this album starts out sounding like Renata is in her living-room at home and singing out whatever comes to mind while a radio plays soft music from a room down the hall. I’m not so sure that’s the effect she was going for.
For me something like “On Depression,” has a much stronger connection. As one who has spent a vast amount of years enveloped in it; I certainly appreciate songs like this offering advice and healing to those that need to hear it still. I managed to beat my own more or less, purely through music and what I do here at sleepingbagstudios…so the idea that she can or that someone could accomplish something of that magnitude for someone out there is not as far-fetched as we often believe it to be. Musically, I love this track…very similar to the music of Tortoise, for whose love I’ve already documented on the pages many, many times.
Her free-flowing spirit soars on “I Will Change The World, It Is In My Stars,” a song where she demonstrates some wonderfully clear, solid tones in her singing voice in addition to really making us feel she believe in the words of this song. She’s done an excellent job here in this stripped-down tune…it’s as isolated as it is all-encompassing; her journey and thought process all covered here as she goes from internal thoughts into her connection with the world around her.
I dig the melancholy vibe of “Turn Around,” this song itself feels like the struggle in her journey and life experiences…that moment that told her to “Turn Around,” and run towards the good, away from the dark. On this song, musically she’s got no choice but to embrace these dark swirling sounds as she floats overtop with a melodic, poetic-style. Much of this music that she makes is more akin to spoken word than perhaps what you might typically define as music-music. You either dig on free-spirits & poetry or you don’t; but the heart and passion of a person’s desire to partake in music also plays a massive part. Renata shows big time heart in these songs she creates.
I mean…listen to her! “I Am Happy, I Feel Good.” Sounds like she’s in a great place to me.
Overall…a more subtle-mix on Renata’s voice will benefit her and the music greatly. Right now, there’s no argument to support that a track like “Always” wouldn’t be stronger with a more solid & even mix. Singer’s like to be up front for the most part…we all know this…but you also have to have a somewhat even level or the separation between the two aspects, music & vocals, drifts too far apart to audibly be recognized as a single entity.
Something closer to the mix on “Today I Will Have Tea With The Queen,” or at least…the main vocal-line. The backing vocals come up a bit too close. In a sense, I kind of actually really love the mix on this song as uneven as it might be to some. With the bagpipes fully pumping away, this song sounds as if it’s recorded out there somewhere in a wide-open field…sung out loud by Renata somewhat far away. And again, even though it’s a little too close up in the mix, the effect that second vocal layer has makes it sound like this was a moment recorded over video, and that the person holding the camera was providing what they thought was subtle-backup only to discover the microphone picked them up much more easily by proximity alone. Call me crazy…I think the visual element of this is entirely interesting.
The same would apply to “The Earth Is Burning,” which I thought given Renata’s positive nature was an interesting choice. The lyrics are more complex here…this could be a good or a bad thing at times. In any event, it’s a polarizing choice to put this at the end of the album to leave us with this song as the final impact. Much like “Turn Around” in tone, sound and feel…I do like the malaise in the music and these more impactful low tones that she ends this album with here.
Hmmm! What else can I say? Renata’s got me stumped here…there are a lot of interesting ideas and I think with a little more time in the studio, maybe a little more work on the mixes…she’ll find she’s able to communicate her ideals, opinions, insights and faith a lot more clearly to those listening. For now…we get some real & raw insight into an artist with a pure-heart & solid intentions in a free-form display of music and poetry.
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