Perhaps you’ve heard about the Music Genome Project, a huge undertaking wherein researchers are breaking millions of recordings down into their core components — timbres, tempos, rhythms, etc. — and cross-referencing all the information. Its most practical application allows an individual to enter an artist they like, then receive recommendations of other acts with overlapping sensibilities.
If there is an album that could stump the MGP, Springtime Can Kill You, the third full-length from Bay Area singer-songwriter Jolie Holland, is surely it. Aside from Holland’s amber voice and lazy diction, there is breathtaking (in the best sense) disparity between the disc’s twelve selections.
“Stubborn Beast” suggests the sort of cabaret songs from between the Great Wars once peddled by Lenya and Dietrich, while the country-tinged “Moonshiner” is shot through with bittersweet slide guitar. The title track, despite its fatal implications, is a light and lively jazz tune, propelled by flittering cymbals, quick strums, and an air of barely suppressed agitation.
What unifies the disc, besides that bewitching voice, is Holland’s commitment to small yet varied ensembles (including, but not limited to, piano, muted brass and accordion), and recurring lyrics about heartache. But the loose story of a protagonist who feels like the queen of mass transit (“Crush In The Ghetto”) one moment, and devastated the next (the chilling, bare-bones “Ghostly Girl”), constitutes only a fraction of the record’s mercurial appeal. What makes Springtime ultimately so gripping is the way Holland, her characters and her music refuse to be broken — or broken down — as easily as most contemporary recordings.