aroline’s is a call so clean you soil it with your ear.
In fact, Caroline is untouchable, a voice savored from a distance. It’s not in her music. Murmurs ushers you into her pink-flame with minimal resistance—strings, subtle beats, and hushed electronic soundscapes. But there’s an asexual nymphette behind her charms that’s like coming upon a naked child bathing in a stream. You may well adore her innocence, her youth and pallor, her custom of pleasure in withdrawal, but she’s beyond flesh.
Those of you who enjoyed her bewitchingly slight single of last year, “Where’s My Love”—included here on her debut record—may understand what I mean. Illustrating her classical training (she studied at Berklee School of Music before falling for Explosions in the Sky and asking Temporary Residence Ltd. for, erm, temporary residence), the track revels in the magnitude of quiet—her voice at the center of a rather stately, if reined-in, backdrop. Skirting MOR AM Radio, she sings over quiet gum-popped beats, piano, and hushed chimes in a restrained love chord. Where Robyn and Rachel Stevens were courting listeners with meta-candypop and Nordic-postermour cover-shots, Caroline was the marble-eyed girl in the corner, biding her time ‘til she spills her homework on the floor and you take notice to help.
Sadly, at points on Murmurs, this timidity proves excessive. “Bicycle” opens with a strident trumpet before Caroline begins in a voice far too insipidly sweet for the gloss of the music behind it. Her songwriting is exposed; she trades in treacle: “I can’t remember your face / But I remember your bicycle / How it took my breath away.” She’s cloying and honey-false, and given the minimal arrangements on which she relies, it leaves her demure posturing unbearably fey. “Pink and Black” succumbs to the same emotional hyperbole, as phrases like “here we go / I’m gonna make all this happen / Little steps / In little steps / I’ll make it closer to you” run for unprovided cover beneath the stale folktronic beatscapes and oriental harp.
Fortunately, Murmurs’ opening duo is forgiven with the rest of the record’s Sunday morning balm. “Sunrise” finally pairs Caroline’s carp-pool voice with a melody to match. Again, the programming is dim enchantment—cellular electronics and stumble-block beats that give Caroline room to extend her suddenly potent range. But here, her often awkward lyrical sense blossoms under a cloudy melodic refrain. It’s the pull of the ear over the brain, and as much reason to recline, dim the mind and lights, and simply daze as any here.
Meanwhile, “Everylittlething” lives up to the PR-sheet furor and Bjork comparisons with its relatively aggressive beat structures and static churn. In a moment of pull and retreat, black-nail synth lines threaten to overcome Caroline’s vocals before she turns for the first time to a scowl, flirting with crash and hurt. Given the record’s introductory salvo, the brief sense of harm gives her a power we would be forgiven to think she lacked, and thus opens the rest of the record to the possibility this is more than your average powder fairy at play.
As the wistful “Winter” fades out on solemn piano notes, Caroline slips from view. Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White, still unknowable. Hers is an adolescent voice, the silt of youth coalescing into untimed age, so far from our thoughts but beaded into dreams we don’t remember. And yet, you begin to hum a smatter of tune you can’t place in the shower. Caroline will go on to make better records, but if little else Murmurs will leave us those strains of melody during shampoo, rinse, repeat.