Elin Palmer - Postcard
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: August 23, 2009
Violin, vocals, nyckelharpa, accordion, guitar, cello, keyboard, and bass; seven instruments, possibly eight if the human voice constitutes one as well, are an impressive repertoire. In this case, the extensive resume belongs to Elin Palmer, a seasoned musician who is best known for her skill with the violin and the nyckelharpa, which is an ancient instrument of Swedish origins. Taking a step further from her usual role as a multi-instrumentalist her own voice has been thrown into the palette to record her first album, Postcard.
Palmer's musical roots stem back to the folk music of her home country, Sweden, and it's evident from her vocals, which prominently feature a slight Scandinavian accent. Putting aside whether it's intentional or not, it certainly manages to present a pleasant sound, lending a slightly lilting tone to her English lyrics. Delicate but not fragile, Palmer's voice is capable of dancing across a wide spectrum, lingering moodily in a lower scale in the darker "Whaleboat" before leisurely reverting back to a higher range in the care-free "No Use". In tracks such as "Stora Stoular" and "Du Var Där" the Swedish verses sound natural, rather than forced and imitated. Considering she's spent most of her career with a focus on instruments, rather than singing, it's somewhat impressive that her first debut manages to place the strongest traits of her voice in the spotlight: her airy style of singing that emphasizes an ethereal, gentle sound is able to skate across the surface of each song.
The tracks are all supplemented by a wide array of instruments, most of which, such as the violin, cello, accordion, and nyckelharpa, would seem more at home with the Swedish folk tradition rather than with modern music. Despite the prevalence of the violin as her instrument of choice (both in the album and as her personal specialty), Palmer does break out the familiar guitar a few times in the album, namely on the cheerful, upbeat "Balloons". However, her instrumental expertise is at its best when sweeping orchestral arrangements fill up the melody and harmony; grand, but not pompous or ostentatious. In doing so they provide a förtjusande (Swedish for "charming", I think) contrast to both her softer voice and subsequently her lyrics, accentuating the former and drawing out the latter.
Speaking of which, they're (as in the lyrics) fairly catchy, and while it's possible to criticize her regarding repetition, it's a bit of an unfair statement when one considers that her whispering voice is able to capitalize on those sections by casting a soothing, but mesmerizing spell. It's one of those occasions where it's not so much boredom that settles in, but tranquility. It helps that the verses themselves are more or less poetic in nature, and in this department much credit is due because they keep that artistic edge without having to resort to being ridiculously verbose. Palmer's lyrics are simple, but somewhat profound as well; not because they're deeply philsophical, but because they talk about things that are easy to relate to with surprising insight. Love is a common theme artists will sing about, but it seems rare lately that there's much, if any, honesty behind lyrics regarding that topic; it's a bit refreshing to hear that happen here.
The artwork of the album depicts Palmer offering a slight smile through the window of a car, and while seemingly irrelevant to postcards (I think it would make a decent one, actually), it sums up my impressions of the album well. Whether it's while driving on a long stretch of highway through sunny fields of wheat (something likely not seen very often in Sweden, since only a meager 2% of the GDP and employment are accounted for in agriculture), or sailing across the Atlantic on an old viking ship, Postcard is a great album to take along for the trip.