Casey Dienel is a soft-spoken, impassioned singer/songwriter. What’s that you say? You, your girlfriend, her sister and the dude who bagged your groceries this afternoon are all soft-spoken, impassioned singer/songwriters?
Casey Dienel is a soft-spoken, impassioned singer/songwriter.
What’s that you say? You, your girlfriend, her sister and the dude who bagged your groceries this afternoon are all soft-spoken, impassioned singer/songwriters?
Perhaps Dienel’s relevance is not self evident when put so plainly. It isn’t exactly novel—a quietly adorable, ivory-tickling young songstress moves to Portland, gets lost in the woods, hangs out in cafes and watches her career bloom—but hey, when it works, it works.
Dienel, under the moniker White Hinterland, is making all the right moves when it comes to stepping out of the heartfelt songbird paradigm and into the shoes of a dynamic artist. Most of those moves, incidentally, are evidenced by Luniclaire, an EP she released last October of some very sexy covers of 1960’s French pop.
“I wouldn’t say that I have consciously changed things,” she says. “When I stumble on a vein of sound, if it’s different I don’t shy away from it.”
Conscious or not, it’s hard to listen to the songs of Luniclaire—throaty, psychedelic covers of Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Fontaine and Francoise Hardy—and not hear the internal sea change.
Last March’s full-length Phylactery Factory is no failure, but for all its strings and dense images, it might have been fodder for Cat Power associations and other pigeon-holing were it not for the groovy dissonance of Luniclaire.
“I think a lot of times I’m definitely serious,” Dienel says, “but I try not to take my music too seriously, and the best way to do that is to turn records and recording and sometimes performances into a game. The game with [Luniclaire] was the language, which I don’t speak fluently anyway.”
Playing games, pretending to speak French and rocking space-lounge music might sound amateurish for some, but for a 20-something songwriter already worried about over-seriousness, loosening up creatively might be a sign of musical maturation.
“[Phylactery Factory] feels like it’s really up in my head,” she says, “and [with Luniclaire] I wanted something that was outside my head and in a room with other people and other people’s ideas.”
That intention manifests itself on the record by way of cool, tribal jams and French lyrics that are, for the monolingual American at least, as good as nonsense. It’s quite a departure from the lyrical exactness of what she calls the “compositionally fixed” songs of Phylactery.
It’s hard to remember that the word singer was not always followed by /songwriter. Some great vocalists were not the kind to put pen to paper. After all, Nico was known to croon the words of Jackson Browne for God’s sake.
Dienel’s latest venture into songs she didn’t write, a language she doesn’t speak and a sonic landscape she’s not entirely in control of is creatively wise, stripping her voice of textual meaning and leaving it a bare, full-bodied instrument, free to explore a broader musical universe without having to tip-toe through delicate lyrical meaning.
At the end of the day, the English language, with all its slant and metaphor and “meaning,” will be there when she returns to it. In the meantime, Luniclaire stands as evidence of an artist’s palate expanding from the straightforward and into the surreal. Let’s hope it sticks.