The debut solo album by Marilyn Carino, formerly of Mudville, is a startling meld of sonic and lyric contrasts. These nine songs, with their downbeat tempos, shimmering, layered, sometimes angular textures, and crisscrossing rhythmic and drenched-in-soul melodic architectures, swallow the listener whole -- albeit lovingly. Carino's luxuriant, evocative alto explores her range and completely inhabits her material--she wrote all but one track on the set; she performed and produced it too, employing loops, and electronics (some of them primitive) in creating an immediate space for raw expressiion. Carino's songs are centered around the struggle for radical self-acceptance and its result: independence from neuroses, both our own and those who would seek to imprison us with their own. Her bullshit detector is working full time here. On "Time Bomb," the sultry, clipped tempo and muted backdrops allow Carino's voice to move inside the rhythm; she asks: "Can you let go of something you know like a number?...Maybe I'll tire soon of the mire of longing...." "No Disgrace" begins with spacy, cold textures, but Carino's ability to inject powerful emotion into virtually anything she sings, caresses an elegant pop melody from the soundscape to address her subject: "You got glass hands, cheat sheets, and a crazy mouth/So what?...No disgrace, only a glow." Despite its title, "Monster Heavy" doesn't have a pulse until about halfway through. Glistening ambiences and Carino's vocal authority carry melody and texture to a place of uneasy union; desire is expressed nakedly. When the rhythm does kick in, she rises to the occasion and sings directly above it. The jazzy, drifty, "Special Dark" reveals Nina Simone's influence. With cracked guitars, crunchy loops, and suffocatingly close inner spaces, Carino's protagonist finds the thinnest membrane inside the cocoon and breaks it open by confessing vulnerability and in turn liberating her protagonist: "...Turn to honey my will of steel...my secret's out." The syrupy rhythmic sludge in "King of the World" is turned back on itself as her throaty contralto and falsetto alternately indulge obsession and conflict that seeks a solution through desire's inherent irony. The cover a balladic read of David Bowie's "Modern Love," feels like a futuristic gospel hymn; it's a conflicted paean to the nature of amorous commitment. A sampled church organ underscores Carino's gliding vocal; it creases the tune's seams, bleeding through its lyric with emotion, impure and insistent. It questions and affirms the core of Bowie's argument simultaneously. Little Genius is a noteworthy debut, a logical separation from, and extension of, the music Carino's been making for a decade. It is an artful set of brave, assured, electronic soul tunes, housed in skillfully executed grooves and expressed with a voice that is free of artifice in its expressions of longing, struggle, empathy, and desire.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek