Elizabeth Anka Vajagic
Stand With the Stillness of the Day
ny release under the Constellation Records name comes with certain connotations. Godspeed’s anarcho-rock and the label’s anti-everything credo unfortunately seems to leak upon every record the label releases. Recently, though, the label has branched out a bit from their seemingly endless roster of polito-post-rock bands and have put out some surprisingly good singer/songwriter records. Last year’s sophomore record by Frankie Sparo, Welcome Crummy Mystics, proved the label was more than a singing, traveling, Chomsky pamphlet.
Like other small, tight-knit record labels, Constellation Records often works as a band in itself, often trading and amalgamating different players from different bands, something which gives each release a somewhat unique and idiosyncratic “Constellation” feel. That “feel” largely consists of long instrumental passages, bombastic climaxes and an overall “orchestra”-rock sound thanks to an abundance of stringed instruments: all qualities which can be found on the debut from Montreal singer/songwriter Elizabeth Anka Vajagic.
While Constellation Records' politics may be contemptible, and their musical roster is mostly tedious—they sure do know how to make beautiful record packaging. When Stand With the Stillness of the Day arrived in the mail, I wasn’t sure whether to open it or frame it on my wall. After a short deliberation, I turned down the lights and gave the record a scan. I can say with untarnished morals that Vajagic’s debut is one of the first Constellation releases which I really like (and would freely admit so) and is thankfully not bogged down by the labels often intrusive politics/credo.
The dour London photographs in the liner notes and packaging capture the gloomy mood of the music inside. Most listeners will (and some critics have) automatically scream for anti-depressants to be shoveled down Elizabeth’s throat after one listen to the first song. It’s not that her lyrics are all that suicidal (downcast is a better term). Instead, her voice makes one believe that the term “vocal-restraint” is either foreign to her or just completely ignored. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Utter nakedness in music should be commended. But so often it is construed as contrived or unnecessary. Which is not the case for Elizabeth, mainly because she retains the same tear-flowing vocal delivery for the entire record (which is thankfully a perfect 40 minute length), leading the listener to assume that if it were faux, we would at least hear glimpses of the “real” emotion at some point.
Guest players from A Silver Mt. Zion, The Shalabi Effect, Molasses, GYBE! and other Montreal bands back up Elizabeth’s terse lyrics. Not one to waste any words, Elizabeth gets right to the point with lyrics like “I saw your face when you killed yourself / Smashed your head and you killed yourself”, from the standout “Where You Wonder”, which includes a glorious last minute noise-climax which, if anything, seeks to prove that there is an actual full-fledged backup band behind the dark, subdued instrumentation. Elsewhere, on the bare acoustic closer, “Sleep With Dried Up Tears”, she sings in a husky voice not entirely dissimilar from Lisa Germano’s drink-and-a-smoke vocals, “I sleep alone / I walk alone / I sleep alone / I cry alone.”
If Stand With the Stillness of the Day can be faulted, it is in its over-reliance on atmospheric moodiness in response to a lack of anything lyrically unique. Elizabeth is lucky to have such talented musicians behind her, though I wonder if an even more stripped down sound—just her and a guitar—like that on the closing track would better suit her, would further highlight her emotive voice, which really is the best thing she has going for her.
Reviewed by: Gentry Boeckel
Reviewed on: 2004-03-29