Amanda Palmer is more productive than I am. It’s been four months since I first heard the Dresden Dolls singer’s mostly-live set, Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under. Then, just as the month of April came to a close, she put out more new music — a six-song digital release called Nighty Night, recorded with Ben Folds and others under the name 8in8. It was right around the same time I saw this video of her playing the Shorty Awards, where she sang an “original” song of Twitter status updates. Then there’s her side project Evelyn Evelyn and the many “ninja gigs” she’s always tweeting about, not to mention videos and remixes. But maybe all that’s not a lot for an artist today.
More and more it seems as though there’s less of a wait between releases by my favorite bands and musicians. Half a decade passed between The Downward Spiral (Island, 1994) and The Fragile (Interscope, 1999). Epic spans of time like that don’t seem to happen much anymore, not even for Trent Reznor. Maybe social media is to be credited, or the many recent advances in technology allowing for faster recording, promotion, and distribution. Regardless, an interesting question lies within: Are artists more productive these days than they used to be? Maybe. But what interests me about Amanda Palmer’s new album is that, not all that long ago, it might not have even seen release. Not many labels would have followed up a debut solo effort with a mostly live disc of almost entirely new music.
Palmer is the the female half of the duo the Dresden Dolls, a “dark cabaret” band which retains a dedicated (I guess you could say cult) following. Now on hiatus, they released two full-length studio albums last decade — their self-titled album in 2003 (8 Ft./Roadrunner) and Yes, Virginia… (Roadrunner, 2006). Following that sophomore release Palmer solo, first releasing Who Killed Amanda Palmer (Roadrunner, 2008) and now the similarly semi-self-reflexive Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under. The new album is a concept record of sorts. It has an antipodean theme, which is a word I had to look up and discovered refers to the inhabitants of Australia and New Zealand. I had a sneaking suspicion the word would mean something like that, as the album is billed as featuring songs Palmer wrote or played while touring the two countries during early 2010. More than half of the album’s songs, seven of the total 12, were recorded live at the Sydney Opera House, presumably during a single night’s gig. If this were the 1990s though, chances are the album’s songs would have just ended up as B-Sides or the full concert would’ve been issued as some obscure import. So much about Palmer’s current output really only seems possible because of her now direct connection to her fans.
The album opens and closes with the Sydney Opera House songs, which, on first listen, gives the impression that everything on the album is taken from that single live set. Certain tracks start to distinguish themselves upon second listen, though, such as “Map of Tasmania,” which soon stands out obviously as a studio recording. And, again, an internet search provides confirmation of what I was pretty sure I knew to be true. Other than “Map of Tasmania,” there are only two other studio recordings on the record, one of which is a cover (itself a part of another of the album’s subsets — three cover songs). Of the nine live tracks, there are the seven Sydney Opera House songs, a performance in Wellington, and a song from the Adelaide Fringe Festival.
Admittedly, the record’s closer, a live cover of Nick Cave’s “The Ship Song,” is what got me re-interested in Palmer and her music. It had been a long time since I last listened to Who Killed Amanda Palmer. But the strength of that cover and of the rest of this new album sent me on an Amanda Palmer fervor, causing me to consume everything I’d been aware of but never listened to — her EP of Radiohead covers, Evelyn Evelyn and her other recent collaborations. From start to finish, this new album further cements Palmer’s standing as a quality songwriter and performer. Whether solo on piano or ukulele or backed by a full band, performing her own work or in collaboration with another, Palmer and her music prove interesting, engaging, and worth repeat listens.Visit: Amanda Palmer | Liberator
Purchase: Insound | eMusic