For all the myriad tales of life that every person goes through, there comes along a few that just feel that much more real than the rest. Some can be bloated with over-dramatization or even a few soul-crushing moments can overbear the story’s importance. But as much as one tries, life as we know it is an incredibly rewarding and challenging journey. Tiny Vipers‘ second album, Life on Earth, isn’t so much another recounting of this so-called life but an astounding new look into it and all that it can offer.
I’m not sure how serious she means it to be but as Tiny Vipers, Jesy Fortino’s music has always possessed an undeniable mystique. Wrapped tightly, with only her acoustic guitar and one supremely affecting voice, Fortino makes music that renders an emotional pull of stirring feelings. Life on Earth is an emotive triumph: equal shades dark and light, spread around a palette of grays and comfortingly heartrending words.
As much as her guitar playing can be called simple, it’s transfixing beyond description. The way it drives and powers her music is one of Fortino’s many gifts; and with her quivering, gentle whisper that can quickly turn into an absorbing melody of a voice, her music takes hold of you and never lets go. Prevalent on all of these songs’ music is a strong air of confidence, both bold and discerning, she’s manipulating her songwriting to paint poignant poems by way of tender songs.
The enthralling opener, “Eyes Like Ours” is exactly what you need to expect from Life on Earth: quietly passionate, serenely touching and uniquely ambitious. The manner in which she pronounces the word “eyes,” like if she is saying “this ice” or sometimes “they” is spellbindingly charming. And if you aren’t careful enough, you’ll miss these extra gems.
These are steady, gradually growing, never rushed, always tempered and in perfect tempo, sketches of life. The life on earth that Fortino is describing is one that calls for drastic change, on all sides of the spectrum. If you take “Time Takes” as a stand-alone piece, it’s a mist of love gained and love lost dressed as a heavy burden for everyone. Asking of herself, ”Am I crazy for feeling like I do?”, Fortino masks her feelings behind a stringent wall of delusion. Purposely positioned in the heart of the album, the chilling ending is a cryptic ocean of ominous darkness and clouded apprehension. And the segue into “Young God” is a masterful choice in the way that it rolls right into the next, never a stop, never a jolt; it’s the spectral embodiment of gloom.
There are enough subtle touches to sustain her routine, such as the melodic whistling on “Development” and “Tiger Mountain.” The latter also features low-ended, booming strings that send a tingle down your spine. And the vocal-altering modifications that turn Fortino’s voice into a metal shroud of harshness on “Twilight Property” are an exceptional choice.
For all of the dusk that prevails on Life on Earth, the moments of breathtaking illumination come in the form of the music. It’s definitely not uplifting by any means but Fortino’s voice is such a stunning revelation -her singing is utterly captivating- that it forces the sounds and tones to another level of musicianship. On the title track, Fortino recalls everything from despair to hope to mourning to a lost environment. A higher scaled guitar, it’s ten minutes of Fortino’s best songwriting; she’s never sounded as dooming as she does when she sings, “And don’t look back toward me, I’m as empty as the sea, back before there was life on earth.” The subsequent music on “CM” recounts the quieter moments of Neil Young and although, at this point of the album, she’s channeled everyone from Joni Mitchell to Joan Baez, his resounding influence prevails on this song.
It’d be entirely wrong of me to describe this as anything but a deep and heavy listen. Fortino wasn’t trying to evoke a summery feeling and she’s better off without it, anyway. The torrential importance of her music is an astounding one; she’s skillful beyond measure and an excellent musician. You need to have patience for Life on Earth and quite frankly, it demands it. It’s not an album that can even begin to be understood until at least the fifth listen. Fortino has created an album that is easily one of the year’s most moving reflections. It’s that life is all but lost and Fortino’s take on things are spectacularly delivered.
“Dreamer” by Tiny Vipers