Ann Dyer

When I Close My Eyes

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Ann Dyer's 1995 debut, Ann Dyer & the No Good Time Fairies, and more specifically her 1999 sophomore release, Revolver: A New Spin, showcased the vocalist's adventurous, unconventional recipe for jazz -- mix the aesthetics and traditions of jazz, avant-garde music, and rock into a deconstructionist stew of confessional cabaret. It was as if Dead Can Dance made a tribute album to Nina Simone with John Zorn. By choosing solid melodic content to reinterpret, Dyer was able to roam freely through brilliant, iconic songs like the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" and Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman." Her serpentine, meandering way of singing a lyric uncovered new harmonic as well as emotional layers to these classic songs. Dyer continues this approach on When I Close My Eyes, but with far inferior results. This time incorporating original material with covers of songs by artists such as Elysian Fields and Björk, Dyer delivers a pretentious, irritating, and downright boring album. Coming off like some grown-up goth girl still scribbling esoteric and self-obsessed lyrics in her diary, Dyer seems more interested in reciting lousy "poems" than singing anything melodically compelling. Seemingly significant mermaid imagery turns up in two different songs, but never takes on any kind of concrete metaphor. The title track contains the annotation "(Theater Piece)," and may be about something...theatrical? She sings, "When I close my eyes/A world appears too real to touch/Hands share a sigh/And time dissolves slowly on the tongue/There's shelter in shadows and silence in cries/Truth within lies/When I close my eyes." She even turns Emily Dickinson's poem "Evening" into a pointless and twee exercise in beatnik-era song poetry. But it's not just bad lyricism that disappoints; much of what she sings is melodically arbitrary. Working with what is referred to on the back cover as a "neo-chamber format of voice, bass, and drums," there aren't really any harmonic instruments to ground the vocals, and consequently Dyer never focuses in on any believable melody. Never, not once on the disc, does she deliver a hummable melodic statement. Instead, she sings in a kind of faux Indian pop style with lazy quarter tones thrown in as if to assert some sense of ethereal wisdom. Even on the cover tunes like Björk's "Bacherlorette," Dyer manages to drift from word to word as if she's making the tune up on the spot. Despite everything that is wrong with When I Close My Eyes, it still proves Dyer to be one of the most fearless vocalists on the jazz scene, but sometimes fear helps one set boundaries -- something Dyer should open her eyes to.

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