Hi kids. Are you in the mood for some s’mores? I sure am. Oh, but not just because I long for the feel of smooth, velvety chocolate. Not because I have a carnal hunger for billowy, fluffy marshmallows. Not because I know my body will be satisfied with the sweetness and semi-healthiness of graham crackers. And certainly not because I want to see a bunch of mindless Greek pledges and middle schoolers try to egg each other on in a game of Chubby Bunny.
No, I mainly want some s’mores because I feel like sitting around a campfire and telling you all a story. A story of hope, rejection, and redemption. A story of underappreciation and recognition. A story of a fair musical maiden by the name of Charlotte Martin.
Before going into the music industry, Charlotte competed in the Miss Teen USA pageant, then went to Eastern Illinois University to study opera and vocal performance.
OMG! Did you hear that, Music Industry?! An artist that actually knows a lot about music! Sacre bleu! Que horror! Hoe afschuwelijk! Oh il mio dio!! Oh mein Gott!! OH ο Θεός μου! 哎呀!
Anyhoo, after graduation, she moved to Los Angeles and began writing albums and EPs independently, before signing with RCA Records in 2002. While RCA released one of the EPs shortly after her signing, they pretty much messed around and “sat on me” (according to one interview) until late 2004, when her first full-length album, titled On Your Shore, was released.
Of course, Charlotte isn’t the only artist that RCA and Clive “The Dinosaur” Davis has screwed the pooch with, but that’s for another article down the road.
Charlotte left RCA in 2005, just before touring to promote 2 EPs she had written in preparation for her second full-length album, Stromata. She signed with Dinosaur Fight Records in early 2006 and released Stromata in September. Since then, she and husband Ken Andrews own their own label, where Charlotte continues to write, record, and produce her own music. While her foray into the mainstream music world was brief, she still continues today to bring new and interesting music to fans and music lovers all over the world.
I discovered Charlotte’s music 2 years ago with On Your Shore,and subsequently purchased Stromata plus several extra songs. Between the 2 albums, I was at a loss as to which one to review. On Your Shore, though controlled more by The Dinosaur and his minions, was a very solid effort with great acoustic piano material and a very Tori-meets-Sarah sound. However, after splitting from RCA, Charlotte really let her artistic creativity rip and came up with an extremely different yet extremely intriguing album that includes everything from piano to synthesizers to milk jugs. Yeah, you read that right.
So, my lovelies, I’ve decided to take a deeper look into the weird, wonderful world of Stromata. Make more s’mores, mix more hot chocolate, sit back, and enjoy the melodies.
"Stromata": Right off the bat, we get a pounding, piano-synthesizer tune and more influence from Tori Amos. Lyrically, it’s very unclear what the song is about, but the song title refers to connective tissue frameworks of bodily organs. So maybe she minored in Biology. Grade: B+
"Cut The Cord": Here Charlotte talks about the difficulty of freeing oneself from a toxic relationship. Though the lyrics almost get a little drowned out in places, the jungle drum beats are really really cool. Grade: A-
"Drip": I’ve heard conflicting information on what this song is about. Some say it’s about being aware of your body and sexuality (like a “birds and the bees” song). Some say it’s about eating disorders. Some say it’s about a struggling relationship. Whatever the meaning, the synth work is really neat, and the chorus really catchy. One of the top songs on the album. Grade: A+
"Little Universe"": This is probably the most experimental track on the album, with major synth and keyboard work. While it’s a cool sound, it’s almost a little TOO electronic sounding and comes off as a little creepy. Grade: B-
"Civilized": Here Charlotte takes on a more angry, Fiona-esque vibe, with fast-pace piano and drums. And I think this song is about a breakup after the guy got caught cheating. Maybe. It’s a little hard to tell. Grade: B+
"A Hopeless Attempt": The keyboard takes on a very melancholy tone as Charlotte sings about the pointlessness of rekindling a dead relationship. It has almost a bit of a “lullaby” feel to it, like the subject is supposed to be crying herself to sleep. It’s both soft and powerful at the same time. Grade: A-
"Four Walls": This is another heavily-synthed arrangement, though it’s not as intense and creepy as “Little Universe.” It’s a smidge on the filler side, but still an interesting track. Grade: B
"Inch": Here, it’s a simple piano arrangement to a song about not letting a significant other get too close. The riffs are beautiful, though a tiny bit draggy. Grade: B+
"Keep Me In Your Pocket": The pace of the album picks up with this track, which uses a quirky, absurdly catchy mix of finger-snapping, clock-ticking, and the aforementioned milk jugs. The chorus and the bridge especially stick in your head for days. Grade: A+
"Pills": Now THIS is artistry! On the surface, you have simple lyrics describing a list of different kinds of pills, set to a jaunty, quirky piano rhythm and a fun little chorus of “Baaaaa-ba-ba-ba-ba-baaaa.” Sounds cute and fun, right? Actually, this song is about a drug addict who has taken so many pills that he goes out and steps in front of a train (yes, there are train sounds, too). The cleverest song on the album. Gotta love morbid irony. Grade: A+
"Just Before Dawn": Charlotte shows off more of her versatility and immense talent by composing and singing an operatic track entirely in German. Though it’s very short at 1:15, the song does a phenomenal job of allowing Charlotte to show off a powerful, 3-octave range. It’s heartbreaking that artists like her get passed up for bimbos like Ke$ha. Grade: A+
"Cardboard Ladders": It’s another lyrically cryptic song, but the piano and the echoing vocals give it a lush, majestic beauty. Grade: B+
"The Dance": This is probably Charlotte’s most well-known song, and, in an album of very strong songs, the strongest one on the entire thing. It has been used in the show So You Think You Can Dance, among other places. Its play count on my iTunes is one of the very highest. As for the arrangement, the knee-slapping cadence is incredibly infectious, despite giving me the urge to go leaping thought a meadow playing a piccolo. However, the slow build of the intensity of the piano throughout the song, mixed with the backing vocals singing “Amen” like a choir is absolutely exquisite. There really aren’t enough words to describe how cool this song is. Grade: A+
"Redeemed": The title and lyrics to this song are self-explanatory. I love the soft, lingering piano riff transitioning to a more pounding intensity halfway through the song. It’s a great way to end a really cool album. Grade: A+
This is usually the point where I sum up my overall feelings about the album and bid you all adieu for the week. However, there is one more song that is not on the album that I want to review anyway.
One of the EPs released before Stromata was titled Veins, and included several songs that were included on the album. Yet the title track was not. So I’m going to review it. Why? ‘Cause it’s cool. And I just wanna.
Veins: This song uses a little bit of religious imagery within the lyrics to portray self confidence and self-acceptance without the need to be revived. The arrangement is electronic, ethereal, and creepy, yet very cool with pounding drums and a bridge of repeated hallelujahs. It’s another song that has had many repeated plays on my iTunes, and I do think it’s a shame that it wasn’t included on the album. Grade: A+
NOW you have it! Stromata may have its fair share of strange, experimental arrangements, but the array of sounds does a brilliant job of showcasing Charlotte’s musicianship and versatility. Many of the lyrics take a page from Tori Amos and become a bit confusing, but they also make you think and try to come up with your own interpretations. And if you ask me, someone who can write music that triggers lots of thought and deciphering is someone who deserves all the recognition in the world.
Recommended Songs: “The Dance,” “Pills,” “Drip,” “Veins,” “Keep Me in Your Pocket,” “Cut The Cord,” “A Hopeless Attempt,” “Just Before Dawn,” “Redeemed”
Until next time….long live s’mores..