The whole album is strong, with a range of moods, beats, syncopations, harmonies and appealing, unusual ways of putting together and owning what appear to be quite a variety of influences. Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell are frequent comparisons, but this is very much its own thing.
The by-turns rich, dark, stark, tangy harmonies of "Seed of Wonder" remind me of the Mysterious Bulgarian Voices that were all the rage a couple decades ago, very infectious. The song has an arresting alternation between overdubbed layered vocals and simple vocals, rather like call and response. Just one of many interesting musical touches. Someone put a lot of work into the production. (I wrote more about this song below.)
You can rock the house with "Out the Back Door," about the secret (to parents) night life of the young. (Pump up the sub.)
By contrast, the song about Hurricane Katrina, "Love Is All We Have," is appropriately aching and funereal, a beautiful lament of what was washed away, with a refrain of all that remains for some. Not a new idea, of course, but it's the kind of thing we must sometimes remind ourselves of, effectively done here. The melody has stuck with me for days.
I really don't want to go on about every song, but another standout is "Intelligentactile 101," a playful spirit's-eye view of entering this world. It has a strong driving pulse and brims with the elemental childlike joy and wonder of life captured in the lyrics.
My current favorite cut is the last one, "Love and Love Again," by Hoop and David Baerwald, who also recorded and plays on the song. I've been whistling or humming it all day. The arrangement is reminiscent of a ballad from fifty years ago, with strings (or some facsimile thereof) and piano, but it has a very distinct Hoop flavor of its own. I enjoy her smoky, somewhat dirty execution of the vocal, surprisingly nimble, if not quite as precise as it could be. It would be fun to hear it sung by someone, perhaps a jazz vocalist, who would articulate the deceptively tricky passages more cleanly. I'm not sure if I'd like it better that way, but I'd like to find out. Great song, in any case, and I expect to hear it covered by others in coming years.
All in all, a fun, lively, unusually strong and adventurous debut.
(I originally wrote the following when Lee Armstrong's one-star review was the first of the three featured reviews and seemed to call for some response. It might still be of some interest.)
Lee complains of bizarre lyrics in "Seed of Wonder." I don't mind bizarre lyrics myself. (I was listening earlier to His Name Is Alive's Home Is in Your Head--that's truly bizarre, and brilliant.) But these lyrics aren't so bizarre, and surely not as bizarre at Lee's interpretation of them. I really hope his remark implying they're about menstruation was just a joke.
The song begins, "Once my love stood still like a stagnant well for so long, you could hear the song of spiders - strumming fibers calling her to the web, my river sits in ebb." OK, that seems odd, but it will make good sense by the end. Soon a hint: "All I want is to be writing, to be writing." Then towards the end: "Once that wish did land like a star in my hand - it burned and it burned and it burrowed in, soar through the source searching ... finally that tapped spring come runnin' like a river, my song it came ... right away I went writin' I went writin' right away I was hummin' I was hummin' right away I was singin' I was singin' right away I was lovin'."
See? It's about songwriter's block. The image of spiders strumming their webs is unusual, to be sure, but in a good, fresh way, appropriately evocative of a cobwebbed place long unvisited (her creative wellspring), where there remains some small, subtle but vibrant call, what we might call a creative itch, which by some spark, here fancifully represented by a falling star (wish, falling star), suddenly grows to a burning driving urge, burning through to unblock a torrent of creative energy. Fine images, not all completely new, of course, though the spider-strumming one is new to me, but all given a fresh look (much of which I haven't touched on here--I've quoted less than half the lyric).
The association of love and creativity isn't spelled out, but we can think about that ourselves. The title is ambiguous, meaning either a wondrous seed or the seed that wonder is, possibly both. Is wonder the spark? The allusion to the mustard seed of faith is of course a biblical one, used here to refer to the way the smallest bit of faith can grow to something mighty.
Among the ways a lyric can be good is being evocative of interesting, provocative images, feelings and ideas. This lyric is good in those ways, and it has good rhythm, rhyme and other pleasing poetic charms too.
Lee finds Hoop's voice shrill and thin. Her voice is of the breathy, high, girlish, sometimes mumblish kind that has been very popular for female pop singers for a good while now. If you don't like it, there's a lot of good music from the last 25 years you don't like. The slipping around notes that Lee complains of appears to be an artistic choice that generally works well for the songs.
It's true that the same simple guitar notes are played over and over, which is of course typical of rhythm guitar (for a more repetitive example, check out Johnny Cash's famous "I Walk the Line"). But the notes that repeat here are catchy and serve well as the basis for a very unusual, complex use of vocal harmonies and syncopated rhythms.
Analysis aside, "Seed of Wonder" is instantly attention-grabbing, quickly addicting, and rewards repeated listening.