Alina Simone
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Alina Simone

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The best kept secret in music

Press


Alina Simone, a Ukrainian-born singer with a potent and ethereal voice, writes wistful songs laced with spare guitar playing that have a Cat Power-like quality. - The New Yorker


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


If you have not yet discovered this for yourself, let me point out a crucial fact to you, so as to bless your discerning ears: Alina Simone is an important new voice in female indie rock, and this, her debut EP, establishes exactly that fact; she has made a name for herself in a brief introduction.

What you will hear here is deceptively lo-fi, lovingly handcrafted and simply stunning. While some immediate reference points are Cat Power (as evinced by the opening title track which sonically rivals "You May Know Him," note for note) and Mary Timony ("Siberia" could easily appear in the roaring, obtuse annals of The Magic City), Alina Simone has a voice and a method all her own. Her sound is spare and somehow rotted on the inside, as she riles up in defense of her emptiness. Tinges of spurned guitar anger draft punctuation in fitting, bitter places, and the oft-stilted pace and chilled tambourines show how much work has gone into this creation of simplicity.

The tone is jealous and scorned, but healing with every poignant barb. We are listening to a jilted lover speak her final peace, and while acidic, the EP is filled with the same righteous comfort. Whether stepping to the hollow sleepwalk of disbelief ("Louisiana") or letting guarded emotions pour out unapologetically ("Every Fresh Start You Make"), Simone is so convincingly real, it's hard not to open old wounds in her company.

On the fullest-sounding of the tracks, "Cash America Pawn," she thickens her tears with a tuneless acoustic guitar and echoing handclaps, appropriately broken and distant. It's remarkable how she can make something so rich with so little, and that stark depth becomes her calling card. As it is with many distinguished works of art, honesty is all that's necessary to be great. (May 2005) - Lost at Sea


It is something of a cliche to take a woman's raw voice and leave it out front, accompanying it with the barest of essentials--or at the very least, leaving the music well down in the mix. Think Edith Frost or Shannon Wright or PJ Harvey (at times) or plenty others. This technique does raise the emotional quotient, but it can come off as a cheap studio trick if the song doesn't actually have the necessary punch.

Not here. Simone's open, direct voice is perfectly suited for this treatment. Simone's talent is very real, and this six-song set proves it. A harrowing ride direct to the soul. Hang on at your own risk. (May 2005) - Aiding and Abetting


Five poignant and sparse songs set the stage for beautiful vocals.

When I think “girl with a guitar,” the immediate image in my mind is of folk music or something alt-country. Although I tend to like both, I was not at all prepared for Alina Simone’s definition of the phrase, which is much more about the girl than the guitar. The Ukrainian born singer/songwriter made her way to New York City via Massachusetts and is slowly forging her place in the music industry.

The five tracks on this EP are definitely all about Alina’s lyrics and her vocals. The guitar is sparsely used and seems to serve as more of a backdrop to give the tracks a bit more structure. She is joined here and there by bandmates from Emma La Reina and by a friend on violin, but even when other instruments are introduced they are still used quite sparingly. Prettier in the Dark was recorded in Alina’s Brooklyn apartment by Steve Revitte (Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Liars), which gives each of the songs an intimate feeling and helps maintain the minimalist approach.

Simone’s songwriting style focuses on the people and places of her past – particularly growing up in suburban Massachusetts. Her words are not flowery or liberally peppered with metaphor; instead, Alina is much more literal and to the point. This type of direct approach seems to give more room for her voice to soar, which is great because this girl has some amazing pipes. Although her first notes of the opener “Love and Rockets” sound a bit strained, Alina quickly settles in to a groove. On “Louisiana Song,” Alina sings about getting lost on a trip to her father’s beach house in Louisiana, and her voice is so emotive you’ll find yourself getting spellbound by the story. For such low key songs there is a lot more going on here than initially hits your ear.

Like many EPs, Prettier in the Dark gives the listener just a taste of what Alina Simone’s music is about and leaves you wanting more. The songs here are about as personal as you can get, and Simone’s bare bones method suits her style perfectly. If you enjoy a strong female voice - particularly one that is fairly distinctive - coupled with sensitive songwriting, this one is worth searching out.

February 2005
- Delusions of Adequacy



Girl with Guitar is exactly that: a one-woman act, no frills, no hidden gimmicks, no artificial flavors -- just a powerful female voice and aggressive, potent melodies. The girl in question is Alina Simone, a Ukrainian-born, Massachusetts- bred, New York City-based songwriter, a woman with a hypnotic cadence and range and a deep love for the minimalism of punk guitar and the forlorn sound of the cello. This four song EP, produced and engineered last year under the supervision of Steve Revitte (Liars, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion), is an understated but extremely strong set of songs, indicative of a substantially gifted talent -- one that is almost undoubtedly going to reappear on our radar at some point in the very near future, should this recording catch the attention it deserves.

Simone's voice is undeniably addictive, her delivery both charismatic and indifferent, provoking and inciting the listener while remaining soothing and subdued. At times, she is an odd mix of Björk, Scout Niblett and Sinead O'Connor, swooping from a rousing growl to a quavering lilt and back again with little evident effort. At other moments, she sounds like no one else, her rich timbre evading any quick or obvious comparison. She is at once sincere and endearing, while seemingly detached and disturbed, tearing out her heart in misery but somehow still managing to comfort and hearten, elevating her subject matter beyond the mundane into profundity. "Cash American Pawn" is a folk-drenched tale of suburban stagnancy, of bypassers and loners lost in the mire of wasted potential and the downtrodden ideals of small-town-America. A few sparse chords lift these musings into an elegy for defeated longings, Simone's voice desperate in describing an uncomfortable series of observations and a meeting of like minds in a scene of twisted, dramatic intimacy. The somber cello notes and minimal percussion of "Miner" add foreboding and urgency to a tortured examination of romantic behaviour and one's personal knowledge of others, lingering in metaphors and elegant string interludes. "Black Hair in Your White Sink" is a winding, despondent ode to a dying relationship, the cello moaning and wailing in perfect echoes against Simone's elemental lamentations. Dry, persuasive punk chords carve out the remnants of closing track "Copter", an abrupt switch from the acoustically driven core of the previous three tracks, stitching her smooth, sensual, impassioned phrases into a fierce, tight web of agitated rhythms, the final note a long, violent ache of yearning that speaks of loss and resentment.

This is some strong stuff, worthy of further observation. If the right people get a hold of this EP, we may be fortunate enough to hear a lot more from Simone -- but until then, this is a compelling example of her abilities. - Splendid



Alina Simone Transforms The Ordinary
Neumu.com: Excepts from a long article by Lori Miller Barrett [Tuesday, November 23, 2004]
Cash America Pawn & Love and Rockets MP3s both featured in the Gramophone Section

"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 - Neumu



Alina Simone “Prettier in the Dark” EP (Fractured Discs 2005) Pitched halfway between Cat Power and PJ Harvey is a pretty good place to be - she’s less reticent than Chan but not as outré as Polly. The sound is pretty skeletal, fingers moving up and down the frets with throbs of organ hovering in the background; her vocals are surrounded by her breathing they can’t be separated from the act of singing, a tambourine shaken like a disturbed rattlesnake, and the live recording gives an immediacy and intimacy. Unadulterated and undaunted, this is powerful stuff. (May 2005) - Americana UK



Alina Simone sounds like Bjork, but that's not a bad thing because she is fantastic, just her and her guitar (www.girlwithguitar.net, if you don't believe me), singing sparse, indie rock songs and claiming "everything on K records" as influences. K Records is cool, Simone isn't trying to parrot the flavor of the month and the production is so clean and quiet that Simone's music is just naked and jarring. The occasional cello augments her voice, adding drama and bottom-end punch to her airy guitar notes. "Miner" recalls the amazing first Spinanes CD on Sub Pop with a bare arrangement of guitar, drums and cello. Simone is confident enough to allow the music to overshadow her voice occasionally, which lends even more tension and anxiety to her songs. We will hear more from Alina Simone. - Jersey Beat


Discography

Prettier in the Dark, debut ep released internationally 4/19/2005
Streaming mp3s available from Neumu at:
http://neumu.com/gramophone/songs/alina_simone/love_and_rockets.mp3
and
http://neumu.com/gramophone/songs/alina_simone/cash_american_pawn.mp3

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

I was born in Kharkov, Ukraine and grew up in Massachusetts -- halftime in the pretty suburbs and halftime with my grandparents in a housing project in Cambridge. My first guitar was a really shitty Kent which I bought with babysitting money in high school. I wanted to be a cross between Sinead O'Connor and Mary Lou Lord (who was my hero -- I missed trains to listen to her at the Park Street subway platform all the time). The first time I sang in public was on the streets of Austin, Texas, under the abandoned awning of what is now Buffalo Bills and it felt good serenading the homeless people and surprising drunk frat boys on warm, spring nights.

My songs are about places where nothing and everything seems to happen -- pawn shops, access roads, malls, gas stations -- and all the gorgeous, impossible, fucked-up possibilities that other people can bring into your life. Yes, I know it's raw and messy.