It’s funny how fans are born. I spend a lot of time listening to new music, and “new” old music, clicking links on press releases and combing through racks at thrift stores. There is great stuff in plain sight all around if we keep the antenna up. I know some of that stuff gets buried in the avalanche sometimes, and it kills me. But sometimes, someone just chucks something at your head and it hits the mark. That’s what happened with Lisa Said’s new EP, Estranged, out Friday on Tall Short Records.
I happened to be heading out to run errands when it came to the house, so I got a chance to listen to it a few minutes after it came into my possession. I dug it immediately, as soon as I heard the gravely rhythm guitar and that distant-sounding lead. The first reference that came to mind was Alejandro Escovedo, one of my favorite writers and performers. He exudes a mix of punk bravado and earnest vulnerability. Said has that, too.
The music is soulful, gritty, and clever. And she’s referencing other music here, too. When I realized she was name-checking Beatles, Stones, and Stooges tunes, I had to listen again to see what I’d missed. “Some dudes want to give me shelter, some dudes just want helter skelter,” she sings, “other dudes, they make me twist and shout.” It’s a weary lament and a celebration of the kinds of “dudes” she’s encountered, categorized by songs and correlated to emotional outcome. It was a quirky thing that made me smile.
Estranged has a living, beating rock and roll heart, and the sound is cohesive but not repetitive. Which is to say, there’s a style there, and some nice surprises. “Regular Guy” starts off bouncy, just voice and guitar. But when the drums kick in, the feel changes completely to something different, more driving. If you were tapping your toes for the first few bars, you’d have to adjust. But it works. The feel change is, itself, almost a hook. “Pay attention,” it says, “we’re going to toy with your expectations a bit.”
“Peel the Moon” adds some jangly mandolin and the kind of chorus you start singing along with by the second time it comes around. “So what you want me to be/What you want me to be right now, I can’t be right now,” she sings. “So what you want me to see/What you want me to see right now, I can’t see right now.”
“Up Not Down” is a little more languid, but there’s still something smoldering there. The narrator is caught in that perfect state of indecision and longing, desperate to move but unable to figure out where she is at the moment. It’s a state of constant motion and friction that looks and probably feels like stillness (think of the patients from Awakenings, if you’re prone to odd connections). “I left my baby on the side of the road/He made me crazy, or so I’ve been told,” she sings. “Oh won’t you fill me up/Don’t you let me down.”
The EP is also an effective calling card. Said released her debut full-length album, No Turn Left Behind, less than a year ago. I missed that one at the time. I have since corrected that error. And you might be inclined to do the same after you’ve heard Estranged. If you do, you won’t be disappointed.