Soundtrack za okrutnu dječju knjigu o bolnici za lutke.
Joe Frawley is an accomplished, suggestive collagist and ambient composer from Connecticut. Michelle Cross is a singer, songwriter and pianist from Chicago who spent much of her childhood in Japan, and whose voice and playing has garnered well-earned respect. On this outstanding collaboration, all the songs have been written by Cross, including an unnerving re-write of Rogers and Hammerstein’s ”My Favorite Things.”
Frawley creates an Alice-through-the-looking-glass atmosphere on the opening “Scenes from the Doll Hospital,” as Cross tumbles wordlessly in the mix. As a world comes into focus around her, Cross broods over childhood in lyrics brittle, tender and wrenching, dealing with the meaning of memories revisited in a dusty attic kneeling before a chest of old toys. Frawley swathes them in rich arrangements that range from vinyl crackle to orchestral surges, treating her voice and piano and sampling other voices that comment and complement her words and intonation.
Dolls Come to Life is seriously cathartic, for the listener, too. The mood darkens considerably with “No More Dollies,” an anti-Christmas carol, and teeters on the brink of nightmare as Cross trembles through “My Favorite Things,” which brings up disconcerting memories of whispered confessions, bright cherry blossoms, “sexual doodles” and “finally seeing a bad day come to an end.” The elegiac “Lullaby for Girls Without a Grandmother,”—”Can you show me how to draw a pretty girl?”—is a heartbreaking contrast to the loner’s “sexual doodles.” Inanimate objects coming to life is really only a dream scenario for children.
A suite that plays like an Edmund Gorey children’s book, with Cross’ unsettling but deeply affecting song illustrated with dark romantic flourish by Frawley. - Stephen Fruitman
13 Houses and the Mermaid plunged listeners into a world of repressed and haunted memory; A Hundred Years delved into fairy tales. On Dolls Come to Life, Joe Frawley sidesteps into a forest of dark whimsy with the aid of Chicago vocalist Michelle Cross. The turn is not unexpected, but its effectiveness is a true surprise. The gothic sensibility will appeal to fans of Emilie Autumn, while the construction of tracks is reminiscent of Kate Bush and the vocal delivery of Tori Amos. These are hard shoes to fill, but few have come this close, and it’s heartening to hear a modern take on the ethereal.
The stated concept is that “dolls come to life when you leave the room”. These particular dolls are more like those of Jan Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay than those of “Toy Story” and “Ted”. These dolls are not out to cause harm; they simply wish to exercise their porcelain heads, and perhaps to pirouette. The doll room is brought to life through curious constructs ~ music boxes, distant parties, passing cars, snatches of old songs (including “Que Sera Sera”, “My Favorite Things”, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep”). Cross’ voice is echoed, stuttered and looped. Frawley surrounds her with electronic accoutrements like glittering accessories for a handmade moppet. Not every track contains obvious vocals; some are littered with vocal fragments like glass debris. ”Dolls Come to Life – Part 2″ is particularly effective, a collage of spoken word that includes the truncated child’s chant, “ashes, ashes”, which feels uneasily incomplete even after it is finished.
The specific subject matter may vary – broken hearts, marionettes, Christmas – but the collaborators hold tight to the dreamlike mood. The album is a bit too dark to be fully nostalgic, but its mysterious allure is its edge. This is not the childhood most people experienced; it’s the childhood that unfolded under their beds and behind their closet doors. Some may think it benign, others slightly sinister; it all depends on what one thinks of cracked dolls, of eyes suddenly flying open. Coraline would like it, but she’s brave. For many strange children, the proximity of strangeness is a comfort, and for this reason it’s easy to imagine this album being not only liked, but cherished, held to the chest like a suddenly shattered doll. ”No More Dollies” and “My Favorite Things” are the obvious singles (and clearest homage to Tori), but the album works best as a whole: a tribute to the secret world caught only in our peripheral vision. - Richard Allen
Let’s start here: breathtaking. No hyperbole. This collaboration between singer/songwriter Michelle Cross and sound artist Joe Frawley is the most interesting and emotionally powerful half-hour of music I’ve heard in quite awhile. Dolls Come to Life comes at you wielding two very effective weapons. The first is Cross’ voice, a gripping hybrid of a Kate Bush range, complete with quirky arcs and angles, and the turn-in-a-heartbeat duality of Tori Amos, that ability to flick the switch from wide-eyed, verge-of-tears vulnerability to a sharply worded, visceral threat. The story she tells through her lyrics is a raw wound we’re invited to look into and poke at. “No more dollies for you at Christmas,” she says at the start of “No More Dollies,” and it’s genuinely sad. Later in the track she drops firmly into Amos’ territory in both sound and lyric: “And how I hate the pretty girls/they all think they’re so popular/And how they shame an ugly girl/and so, I sacrifice myself.” At a break in the title track she asks, “How many times should I believe you?” and we have to ask ourselves what lies she’s been told. For pure heart-rending truth and sadness, there is her re-work of “My Favorite Things.” It’s sparse at first, with Cross’ words spilling out with the weary ennui of a disenchanted chanteuse. The revisited lines–”Valentine and roses and whispered confessions/Unwritten poems and soft-hearted villains”–make for a nice disjoint between what we know and where we’re going. There’s a beautiful drop and then the piece takes off. When Cross reaches, “And then I don’t feel so sad,” the piece takes a turn and blossoms into something striving toward hope. Layered vocals and big, rich piano reach upward, peaking with “Finally seeing a bad day come to an end.” Suddenly, we find ourselves back in simple sadness, and it arrives like a punch. Toward the end, when she all but whispers “When the phone rings/and it’s not him,” it feels like she’s naked and face-down on the floor, one hand stretched toward a door that isn’t going to open, and that should be about it for your heart.
On the other side is Frawley, taking snippets from Cross and rendering them down with surgical precision into atmospheric elements. Frawley’s specialty is capturing in sound the rapid, jump-cut way our minds work. Moments flash past, things come up half-formed and changing, pain flashes past in an instant, still leaving a mark. Frawley sets that up, creating someone else’s memories and moments, then grabs us by the hand and runs us through it. Callback is a large part of the potency. We re-hear things we recognize, stuffed into different moments, and we’re freshly reminded of how they made us feel. He repeats a line from “Dolls Come To Life”–don’t lose the way–over and over. It keeps the theme of the thing together and makes us revisit the emotional core of the story. As always, too, he takes tiny moments of our natural sounds, like breaths between words, uhhs and wavering notes from songs, and uses them to heighten the overall intimacy. There’s a lot of atmospheric work here. Listen to the young girl’s voice counting off waltz steps in the title track, or the kids singing “Ashes, ashes” in the background. Static crackles, snips of conversation ghost past, a radio spits out Morse code. “Wish Thing” is a scattershot burst of elements reworked into fresh patterns. Low piano notes mimic restructured utterances from Cross, like a song that can’t quite find itself.
I can’t stop listening to this work. Between the pure impact of Cross’ voice and Frawley’s vivid sound-pictures, between the straightforward beauty of the songs and the constantly shifting thoughtscapes, Dolls Come to Life just hits over and over. It’s hard to believe, sometimes, that it’s only half an hour. A little weird, a lot of wonderful. Please discover this disc for yourself. - hypnagogue.net/