I can remember there was a time I’d pick up an album for no other reason other than I liked the album cover. Or maybe I heard a snippet of a song in 10 seconds of a music video. Or maybe because I was just bored and snagged something out of the ‘Metal’ section at Super Sounds at the Concord Mall right before we were leaving. Those were easier days, really. Nowadays I’ve gotta be pretty frugal with my music buying. It’s not that I don’t buy a lot. I do, buy a lot. I have to make every purchase count, though. So once in a while when I buy something completely blindly, or with very little information, it’s frightening and thrilling all at once.
A month ago I was perusing one of my favorite record label’s website. Thrill Jockey is one of those record labels that caters to the artist, not current trends or industry asshats. They give their artists the freedom to make the album they want. And we being the music fan get a hell of a package when that music is ready for our ears. Well, as I perused on their site I noticed an album by Colleen was being released called Captain Of None. I’d never heard of Colleen, but the blue album cover caught my eye, as well as the alien-esque face that donned the cover. I clicked on the video of the title track “Captain Of None” and was immediately enthralled with what I heard. It was this minimalist sound with what sounded like plucked violin strings and a woman’s voice began to sing “Do not let me go blind for I/Still want to learn how to see what’s/In front of my eyes without light/What’s inside of me – what’s inside”. The sparseness mixed with her calming vocals and the existential lyrics grabbed me immediately. I bought it as soon as the song ended.
Colleen is, in fact, not someone named Colleen. Colleen is the nom de plume of Cécile Schott. She performs, records, mixes and produces her albums herself. According to the liner notes of her new and stunning album Captain Of None, she plays Treble Viola Da Gamba, melodica, percussion and effects, as well as singing duties. The album is a mix of instrumental pieces and more pop-inflected songs with vocals. But make no mistake, this isn’t radio dreck. This is beautiful and rather alien music that one second could be playing in the background, the next it could be a score to an arthouse film or playing at an art installation.
“Holding Horses” starts the album. If I had to compare what Schott makes with someone you might recognize, I say Andrew Bird comes to mind. The violin is the through line here. Much like Bird, Cécile Schott doesn’t play the music in that regular old way. She plucks with her fingers. She creates new sounds with an old instrument. “I’m Kin” shows Schott’s vocals nicely. There’s no showboating. No lovelorn weeping coming through her voice. Her voice is like another color in the overall painting. It’s perfect for her music. “This Hammer Falls” is reminscent of Adrian Belew and his more experimental moments on Mr. Music Head. Then towards the end there’s some electronic noodling and radio squall that brings electronic musician and pioneer Pauline Oliveros’ “I Of IV” to mind. Pretty stunning stuff. The beautiful “Salina Stars” ends side A on a longing and wistful note.
There is an island feel to this album. From the ocean blue color of the album art, to the “captain” reference in the album title, to the melancholy feel of a track like “Lighthouse”(which the way Cécile plucks the violin’s strings brings to mind Lindsey Buckingham’s “Never Going Back Again”), you get the feeling of looking out over a vast ocean. Feeling both at peace and overwhelmed at its utter beauty and vastness. There’s something that’s both very familiar and completely alien with this record. There’s familiarity amongst the spacey effects and experimental interludes. “Soul Alphabet” is playful with an almost southern charm as Schott layers bits and pieces with her violin to create a sunny stroll of a song. “Eclipse” is heavy on echo and has more of an ominous vibe. The calm before some impending storm. This track is a great example of what Cécile Schott truly can do in the studio. It all builds up to “Captain Of None”, a song that I think I could listen to all day and still not be tired of it. I think it was a smart move of Schott to place the catchiest track on the back end of this record. It lets all the other beauty on this record shine even more brightly. But “Captain Of None” is a piece of strikingly wonderful work.
What I’ve learned after listening to Colleen’s Captain Of None for the 30th time in the last few days is that once in a while you just need to throw caution to the wind. Sometimes you need to step out of the comfort zone and give something new a try. Captain Of None is one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2015, and one I’ll be listening to for years to come.
9.2 out of 10