Released: September 2015
Though twinkling and glistening in its instrumental arrangements, this follow up to Chantal Acda’s 2013 album Let Your Hands Be My Guide is packed full of darkness and melancholia as her haunting vocals embed a distinct sense of eeriness in otherwise lullaby-like music. The Sparkle in our Flaws is an apt title, though it may seem unusual at first, as the glistening sound of her musical output constantly finds itself at odds with Acda’s ghostly voice.
As a member of the duo Sleepingdog and having toured with the likes of Low and Calexico, Acda is a seasoned professional in the world of avant-garde indie music, hence her ability to attract assistance from Tom Waits and Lou Reed collaborator Shahzad Ismaily and acclaimed electronic producer Valgeir Sigurdsson. Echoes of Waits and Reed are most definitely present on the album, with that clash of quirky sparkle and dark, intense vocals the most defining characteristic of the album, and a clear reflection of Transformer or perhaps even the more bittersweet moments on Rain Dogs.
It has to be said, though, that quality-wise this is proximate to neither. It was probably a silly comparison to make, because though musically and tonally there may be similarities, in terms of ambition The Sparkle in our Flaws is a significantly low key affair. Homes is a study of the very essence of community and love, and possesses an intimate, homely style to match. Similarly, Games conveys a sense of clinging on to something perfect yet in transition. “Don’t go, stick here with me and make this my home” she begs, communicating a strong desire to find comfort and stability in a changing world. Light, mystical sounds characterise the track, yet they are disturbed intermittently by distorted bassy sounds, as Acda’s own personal tranquillity is disrupted.
As soft, minimalist percussion continues to provide a backbone to tender acoustic guitars and synth strings, the album amicably progresses, albeit with an increasing sense of stagnation. As each track goes by one struggles to see things actually going anywhere of interest, and even the songs judged in isolation come across as formulaic and without inspiration. Though the comfortably understated tone of the album is perfectly easy to get along with in its first half, once five or six tracks in the listener expects, yet is not given, something new.
Minor Places is an affable little number that features a notably pleasant male harmony that follows Acda’s vocal lines wherever they go, but it fails to come up with anything of any worth that hasn’t been tried earlier on the record. Up and Down has some interesting stabbing string sounds over a muffled electronic drum kit and the record’s title track subverts its structural formula, presenting a two-minute instrumental section before diving into the conflicted eeriness of its main body. There are entertaining dashes of originality in here, just not quite enough to make it essential listening.
Like a low tempo Florence and the Machine, Chantal Acda cruises through celestial instrumental arrangements and haunting melodies to produce an album that revels in the emotional conflict of its creator. Though a little patchy towards the end, and even then only as a result of sounding a little samey, The Sparkle In Our Flaws should serve as a pleasant selection of ambient alt-folk tracks for anyone so inclined.