Angels in the Dirt by Reign Lee (Feb 2011)

Reign Lee Angels in the Dirt.jpg

1. Angels in the Dirt

2. Blood Red River

3. Sleeper Cars

4. I Bleed

5. In the Rain

I have said before that it’s very possible to make an EP as close to perfection as humanly possible. If anyone doubts this, they may well check out this EP, which is a shining example in favour of my hypothesis. The five songs are very different from each other in feel and sound, which is very much by design. Reign Lee has said that this has been her most satisfying recording experience to date, and it shows – each song’s musical state is highly realised, thanks to some deft touches made with a gentle hand, at the right moments in the instrumentation department. This, by the way, was a geographically opposite (or thereabouts) collaboration between her and musicians from (and in) LA, who clearly put a great deal of care into the songs. The vigilantly added synth bits balance out the more raw guitars just right, and allow the songs to form in your head, rather than force them there. They have flair and are yet focussed – avoiding the trapdoor of landing up with a sound confused between her ideas, and those of the producers and musicians. The product is an EP that is immensely listenable, similar in spirit to Switchfoot’s excellent album The Beautiful Letdown.

There’s something that’s different about the woman that wrote this album, because the lyrics (which are provided, huzzah!!) appear to be more bitter than they were in the past. This conclusion would, however, be a faulty one, because while the subject matter may be sorrow or anger, the lyrics tend to describe a situation rather than rail at it. Add to that the profound calm in her voice, and there’s almost a coolly detached air to it. One gets the feeling that the singer is at peace (maybe even in love with) her sadness, and there’s a very strong appeal to this kind of genuine bravado. While she has long written fine lyrics, they attain a sterling-quality in this set of songs – they’re still simple, but many phrases stick out as having been flawlessly expressed.

One wonders if it’s possible that her already-amazing singing could have gotten even better than it was before, because her voice sounds extra special. It’s probably due to the combination of setting and resources, along with fewer vocal layers; but whatever it is, it’s made her sound absolutely glorious. And yet, this awesomeness serves to somewhat embitter one when the five songs end all too quickly – personally, I could’ve listened to 30 songs all day if they sounded like these 5 do.

Angels in the Dirt starts off the EP in familiar territory with its rocking feel, and simple admission of dissatisfaction. In contrast to the other songs, there is almost nothing figurative about the song, and this makes its effect much more immediate. Sleeper Cars is a distinctly optimistic ditty, whose lyrics have the same endearing quality as Kris Lao’s tend to. While this is probably unintentional, it’s a nice quality to have all the same, as is the lyric ‘Spirits in descent, little tiny Cobains…’. I Bleed strongly evokes a feeling of denouement, and moves into the near-playful hook of In the Rain, whose style is something of a callback to the better female pop artistes of the 90s.

Which brings me to the rare juncture at which I can say that there was one clear standout for me – Blood Red River has everything going for it (along with sharing the name of awesome Aussie swamp-rockers The Scientists’ song). The lyrics, perfectly metered, add a unique texture and rhythm of their own, which the other instruments play off of, to create a captivating, reverberating, highly atmospheric number that rings in the head as soon as it begins. Some of the catchiest lyrics are reserved for this song, and the story they tell really lets you get caught up in it.

In essence, this is a very strong release that adds commendably to Lee’s body of work. But, be warned – it will likely leave you wanting more, so be ready to delve well-deep into her music, while having one of the lyrics from these songs stuck in your head.

— Shashwati Kala

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