To The Dollhouse
9 Track, LP (2012, Broken Stone Records)
Related: Melodie Nelson.
Lia Tsamoglou takes her Melodie Nelson pseudonym from the Serge Gainsbourg concept record Histoire de Melody Nelson, in which that creepy old goat Gainsbourg bangs a teenager over the course of seven songs. On that album the Melody character gets to sing her name a few times and that’s basically it. Her voice is less important as an instrument than the swelling strings or the pulsing sex-bass. But Tsamoglou’s Melodie has a lot to say. She sings from the point of view of women who often don’t get their side of the story told, or – if they do – only as the falsetto half of a duet. Here, they get to be the viewpoint rather than the focus.
In ‘Spin the Bottle’ she’s a seductive teenager, but one who is just as needy as we imagine her 16-year-old partner to be (“The boy to get my kisses will be the one to make me whole”, she sings). Although kissing a boy matters a great deal to her, just who that boy is doesn’t – he’s chosen by that randomly spinning bottle. ‘Sunset of Your Life’ tells the story of an elderly woman living alone, disconnected from the world and increasingly from herself as failing eyesight stops her from making out her ageing face in the mirror. It’s not a cheerful number, but it’s beautiful in a sedate and dreamy way, slowly drifting towards its inevitable conclusion.
‘Martha’ goes even further past the typical end of the story, a murder ballad told from the victim’s side. I’m sure that’s been done before, but that doesn’t matter because it’s done so well here I’ve completely forgotten any others. Over a spooky organ line Melodie sighs, “He strangled me inside the bedroom/My head was warm as I felt death loom”, a lyric so perfectly gloomy it makes me want to pack up all my colourful clothes and become a goth right now. “Through trees I’ll whisper to him softly/I’ll haunt you even if you’re sorry.” That settles it, hand me the mesh shirt.
Her voice, always a sleepy sigh, often accompanying itself in layers, has a woozy quality that sounds out of time. The doo-wop ‘Take Me For a Ride’, which might just possibly be about sex, could be from the ’60s, while a duet with Geoffrey O’Connor – the only male voice on the album – could be from the ’70s. It drifts around, hard to pin down. But whatever the individual songs sound like, they all have that one thing in common: melancholy women telling the other side of a story, “dolls” being given voices. And every single one of them sounds great.
by Jody Macgregor