Alina Simone
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Alina Simone

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Alina Simone's debut EP begins and ends with the Ukrainian singer's timeless voice. It's bleached and pitted like igneous rock, at times cold and remote yet tempered by the ennui of her formative years in suburban Massachusetts and the grubby glitter of New York. None of this is literal-- geography influences lyrical purview, not the innate qualities of a voice-- but since the brief intersections of divergent personal histories are of such interest to Simone, one looks to her own when attempting to understand the provenance of her tremulous coos and tortured glissandos. There's something in them that's not quite pain-- more like tension, the countervailing gravities of too many clinging roots. "When you fall in love with two people/ Choose whoever you knew first/ Because history is important," she sings tellingly, on the murky, two-toned strum of the title track.

Simone rejects the generically folksy strum that keeps many talented singers stuck on the coffee-shop circuit, choosing instead to wrap her smoldering voice around dark, fractured arrangements that tremble on the verge of vanishing entirely-- guitars that begin in two-note figures soon settle into one, rare embellishments like farfisa and trombone seem to come from far away, and percussion tiptoes in geological time, when it appears at all. Steve Revitte, who's best known for his production work with Liars and JSBX, should be credited for keeping the recording unfettered and spacious. If you close your eyes, you can imagine that you're hearing the music in a dim, sparsely populated nightclub, and closing your eyes is recommended: It really is prettier in the dark.
- PITCHFORK


Listed as one of '12 acts to see' at SXSW 2008 along with Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Duffy and Santogold, March 15, 2008

Alina Simone isn’t just coming to SXSW to promote her last record, 2007’s lovely and mournful “Placelessness.” She also has a new project up her sleeve—an album covering the music of Russian punk-folk legend Yanka Dyagileva, sung in Russian. Born in the Ukraine and raised in Boston, Simone channels Cat Power and PJ Harvey, with clever lyrics about being lost on the road, watching a lover crash before your eyes and finding out just how interconnected most of humanity really is. - CORTNEY HARDING


"There's no guide, or maybe there is, and I don't know about it. There should be," said Alina Simone, an exceptional singer/songwriter who is trying to launch a career in New York City. It took her a few years, she said, to learn that she needed to send her demo out to music editors at magazines and Web sites in order to get some publicity. She'd been sending tapes out to bars and clubs to get gigs; that part was easy to figure out. But until a fellow musician told her that she needed to contact the local press, it had never occurred to her. Such is life for a girl with a guitar, a life and a desire to be a rock 'n' roll star.

Her new self-released EP, called Prettier in the Dark, is slowly attracting fans and praise. The five songs on Prettier in the Dark are introspective, guitar-driven stories filled with small details from her life. She prefers to stick to the ordinary, she said, when we met for coffee at a café in the West Village, because "you can have these moments of epiphany during a totally ordinary moment. It's dramatic for you." Plus, she prefers to tell her stories in as few words as possible. This allows her to sing more. "For me, the main thing is my vocals," she said. "I just use the guitar to get me where I want to go. When I try to make it more complicated it gets worse." Prettier in the Dark is Simone's second EP; in 2002 she recorded Girl With Guitar, a three-song demo that included the exceptional "Cash American Pawn."

The nakedness of her music is what draws listeners in. The guitars are stripped of effects and complicated chord changes, and Alina's voice is completely bare as well; you can hear each intake of breath and sometimes even a hint of congestion in the back of her voice, and most of all, her yearning. The simplicity brings a sense of poetry to scenes of her life. In the title song from the disc, she sings, "grabbed my keys, remembered to turn all the lights off, went to meet Chaney by the bodega." Chaney tells her that when you fall in love with two people, choose the one you knew first, because history is important.

Alina admits that when it came time to go into the studio to record her songs, she was very tempted to use some reverb and double tracking to highlight her voice. But the producer, Steve Revitte, who recorded the CD out of his apartment in Brooklyn (and who also produced the Girl With Guitar demos), discouraged it, Alina says. Steve, who's also worked with the Liars and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, says he doesn't remember actually discouraging effects. "I only remember encouraging her to let the songs speak. Alina has a really strong voice and good, simple songs. It's what I would call honest music," he said via e-mail. In the end, the songs were recorded "very nearly live," says Alina, and she's grateful for that.

Confidence in her voice and in herself is something she's slowly gaining as she gets older. She grew up in the suburbs of Boston, and often on the way to school would encounter Mary Lou Lord singing at her subway stop. "She was my idol. You could tell she was shy," says Alina, who remembers once or twice seeing some tough-looking blue-collar commuters brought to tears by the songs. It's hard to imagine Alina being shy. Sitting across from me, she is totally poised and so full of life she makes the three shades of grey she is wearing look colorful. Watching Mary Lou, she tells me, inspired her to save her babysitting money and buy a guitar. But, she kept her singing confined to her bedroom. After high school, she decided to hit an open mike night in Austin, where she was living at the time. "I was so nervous. The first few times, I remember just driving around the block a couple of times, then leaving." When she finally made it on stage, her nervousness was so visible a friend told her it had been painful to watch. So she took her guitar to the streets, just like Mary Lou.

Five years ago she moved to New York City. Once there, she formed a band with three other musicians and got used to playing out at clubs. She currently sings in a band called Emma La Reina, and also performs on her own. "It's great to have bandmates. Without them," says Alina, "I'd probably stay too much in my head. I'd probably go insane." Mostly, because it's in her head that she writes her songs. The words and music will come to her as she's walking around the city. After letting it percolate in her head, she'll sit down with the guitar and play the whole song. ….Prettier in the Dark includes a track called "Siberia," the only song Alina says she's been able to write about her travels so far. The rest is still percolating in her head. "Siberia" is one of the richest songs on the disc. The guitar pulses like a train, as Alina recalls the many nights she spent traveling by rail, in a world without a constant barrage of media and technology. "The city is grey, but the sun is out/… parks are full of people in love," she sings. "I swear you'll get some sweetness out of - NEUMU.COM


The six songs on this beautiful debut obsess over capturing minute physical details. sulfur lights glare down on a romance as it unfolds in a parked car ("Louisiana Song"), and white church spires pierce the sky behind the local pawnshop where lovers converge ("Cash America Pawn"). The instrumentation -- spare guitar and cello with minimal drums -- leaves Simone's aching Rebecca Gates-meets-Chan Marshall voice exposed and vulnerable. (July 2005) - MAGNET


Aug 28, 2007: Alina Simone, a sprightly Ukrainian-born, suburban-Boston-raised songwriter with a richly textured voice, celebrates the release of her new album, “Placelessness,” which evokes but does not mimic many of the pop milestones of the past decade, including the fractured beats of Radiohead and the exuberance of Björk. Simone, whose father refused recruitment by the K.G.B. and was punished with years of hard labor in the Soviet Army, moved to Austin after college and started singing on the street to conquer stage fright. More recently, Simone has spent time in Siberia while making her mind up about being a singer. Fortunately, she decided she wanted to be one. For this show, she’ll accompany herself on autoharp, and she’ll perform the occasional song in Russian. - THE NEW YORKER


On her six-song debut EP, this Ukraine-born, Massachusetts-raised singer-songwriter offers spare music of overwhelming intimacy. Simone has a breathy, quavery voice that communicates a striking combination of strength and vulnerability -- and on occasion she cuts the breathiness and belts in her high register with clarion clarity. She cites Sinead O'Connor as an influence, and vocally it's apt. Simone builds her songs from such small details as "your jacket smelled like cigarettes" and often is accompanied only by quiet electric guitar sometimes punctuated by percussion, making the addition of more guitar, electric bass, and drums more emphatic by contrast. This promising artist is already well worth hearing. (March 2006) - BIG TAKEOVER


8 out of 10

On Placelessness, Alina Simone bridges the gap between golden-throated pop princesses and the more substantive reigning queens of indie rock, but to mark her as derivative is grossly unfair — the woman simply has body. Simone integrates he great tradition of spoken work into the body of her songs, giving free-flowing verse the appearance of form; with the addition of the occasional feminine rhyme scheme, Simone demonstrates method in her madness. But even with her deeply personal chunks of memory laid out in verse , Simone avoids traipsing into the realm of unhinged poetic tirade or performance art: her songs are tightly crafted. A strong sense of identity (the occasional addition of a slow-moving fiddle seems only natural, even called for) marks a collection of wry relections on human interconnectivity (”Velvet Painting”), cruel analysis of a numbed, jet-setting existence (”Swing”), eulogies for forgotten evenings (”Nightswimming”), tirades against mindless suburbanism (”Black Water”), and skeptically optimistic tales from the road (”Pacifica”). Placelessness has the stripped-down sound of a burgeoning indie artist bearing herself to a small, dark room of unseen admirers. Simone, with her second album, seems poised to claw her rightful place among the guitar-heavy rock goddessess of the world. - VENUS


From the opening drops of black guitar color on “Velvet Painting” it’s hard to suppress that good old haunted feeling, the one that used to creep up your spine before Chan Marshall buried herself in Stax/Volt records. Alina Simone, born in the Ukraine and raised outside of Boston, nevertheless sounds determined to get her own thing going on Placelessness, from the clacking percussion on “Refugees” to the strumstick plucking on (not an R.E.M. cover) “Nightswimming”. Her familiar yet distinct pipes curl around minor chord melodies like smoke, and on the closer “Country of Two” prove as capable of carrying a full-on rock assault as they are of gnarled, noir indie folk. Besides placelessness, there’s a fearlessness in Simone’s approach to performing that comes through in every song. Songs like “Pacifica” and “Lonesome” are unabashedly dramatic, the latter opening with a bit of a capella, Simone’s voice trailing off in the dark, “By now everyone is drinking wine from paper cups”. Hey, there’s no shame in that. - POPMATTERS


Alina Simone - “Country of 2″. In the twenty-three months since I first wrote about Alina Simone, she has gone out of her house on the occasion of every thunderstorm and she has brought a mason jar. She stands under the low dark needles of a spruce and she leaves the jar in the open, with the lid off. Rain doesn’t fall in the jar. She collects thunder and lightning dust. She collects the low cracked heat and the sharpness of the wind. When she went into the studio to record her debut LP, Placelessness, she again brought her mason jar. She put it on the studio floor and she opened it. But this time she did not collect lightning; she loosed it. She stood at the microphone with her guitar and felt the electricity like sharkfins. When the drummer hit the kick-drum the air flashed. She swallowed and sang, feeling the air tingle in her mouth. With every rhyme her heart thumpthumped. She closed her eyes and she longed, and she tried to sing the greyblack of what she had weathered.
– 7/12/2007
- SAID THE GRAMOPHONE


Prettier in the Dark is the solo debut from Alina Simone, a Ukraine-born, American-raised songwriter and vocalist for the New York band Emma La Reina. This EP is a delicate mix of dark, minor-key guitar and Simone’s enchanting vocals - a Bjork-like mix of gentle fragility and breathy passion. The six songs demonstrate ‘writing as confessional,’ with each song working to further illuminate Simone’s personal world. While there’s something odd about the vocal intensity inherent in lines like, “Do you remember the time we drove out to Louisiana?/To my father’s beach house?/I got us so lost,” her delivery is warm and hauntingly familiar. - AMPLIFIER


Discography

For streaming tracks, go to myspace.com/alinasimone

Everyone is Crying Out to Me, Beware (Fifty Four Forty or Fight!) to be released August 2008
Placelessness (Fifty Four Forty or Fight!) released 9/18/2007
Prettier in the Dark EP (Fractured) released 4/19/2005.
Esopus Magazine Fall 2005 Compilation, "On Being Complicated" (which also included The Mountain Goats, Josephine Foster and Jim White)

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Bio

Though Alina Simone was born in the Ukraine she sings of life in the suburbs of Massachusetts, NYC and “the flat, open spaces of Texas”. She started out busking on the streets of Austin but has since released one EP and two critically acclaimed albums in both English and Russian. The New Yorker has called her voice “potent and ethereal”, and Venus characterized her songwriting as “mysterious, gritty and raw”.

Bands that Alina SImone has opened for include Dead Meadow (Matador), Alec Ounsworthy (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah), Orienda Fink (Saddle Creek), Scout Nibblett (Too Pure), Jason Anderson (K recs), Eugene Mirman (Subpop), Final Fantasy (Owen Pallett of Arcade Fire) Jason Collett (of Broken Social Scene) and The Wedding Present.