The music and story of Sandpoint artist Queen Bonobo (Maya Goldblum) are characterized by frequent and significant change. On her latest EP, “Sail From This Life,” jazz and folk unite for a dynamic and diverse sound – but one that is also paced and cerebral.
From her folk background, she draws out illustrative lyrics and pensive guitar. From jazz, it’s a playful relationship with chord structure, but also wry attitude and swagger. Just that description should entice you; this is a fun and heady trilogy of tracks.
But the depths are there to complement the sheer intrigue. “A lot of my stuff is dark, sad, but it’s transformational,” Goldblum said. The first track, “Throw Me In,” exemplifies that well. It’s pared down, built around Goldblum’s emotive vocals.
After growing up here in the Inland Northwest, Goldblum would soon find herself in nearly the opposite corner of the country – North Carolina, to be exact. She stayed there until her academic journey took her even farther, to Ireland, where she would spend the next three years.
“I started writing (“Throw Me In”) in the first month I got to Ireland, and it’s about being really strange and homesick and overwhelmed. But through all those anxieties and struggles,” by “believing in myself and my music and continuing to put one foot in front of the other,” she was able to transform Ireland into somewhere she would enjoy enough that she didn’t want to leave.
On the song she sings “I believe in myself” with almost pained emphasis, at once calling the claim into question and then affirming it anew. Goldblum’s use of whitespace throughout the track is also remarkable. She seems with her selective silences to draw the listener in, only to turn them away with a quick, peppy musical retort.
The EP’s remaining two tracks – “Octopus Lady” and “Summer Drift” – further demonstrate Queen Bonobo’s clever writing. Her vocals wander about the songs, toward and away from powerful dissonance with the confidence of jazz and the twang of Appalachia.
With the structure and complexity of avant-garde jazz and the palette of folk, the EP sounds like an over-ocean storm. It is dark, and the sounds seem to swirl around you until lightning darts across the sky, and some illumination is given – but only for a moment.
“Most of my songs start when I’m just blabbering in some either dark or sad hole. The music is always my remedy and processing for life,” she said. “So, my songs usually reflect those parts of me, which are vulnerable.”
She finds relief in putting the songs out in the open. “I think my songs are the parts of me that I don’t usually show in public. And that’s why I like them so much. It’s all these taboo sides that society says you can’t show in public.”
You can hear the release in Goldblum’s vocals, which are the driving tonal force for every track. That said, her music draws no small power from her accompaniment. Jack Charles Kelly and Andrew McCoubrey – credited as co-producers on the album – provided a great deal of support from their roles as bassist and drummer, respectively.
With Goldblum’s direction, the sound of the record is tuned and complete. All in all, “Sail From This Life” culminates three years of learning and change, and you can hear every up, down and in between in the result. Each track is a demonstration of greatly dynamic music pared down to its most impactful and alive.
It’d be a shock to see Queen Bonobo in town in a year; if not for the pandemic, she says, she’d probably be in Berlin. So, while she is still around, follow her on Instagram @QueenBonobo for updates on new music and live sets.
Julien A. Luebbers can be reached at email@example.com.
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