Caroline - Verdugo Hills
Record Label: Temporary Residence Ltd.
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Verdugo Hills is Caroline Lufkin's (a.k.a. Caroline), a Japanese-born electro-folk artist, sophomore release through Temporary Residence Ltd. Filled with ambiance and beautiful soundscapes, Verdugo Hills is a worthy follow-up to her 2006 debut, Murmurs. The spotlight falls squarely on Lufkin's high, clear, angelic soprano supported by minimalist acoustic and electronic accompaniment. Because of this simplicity, the listener becomes enveloped, even lost (in the best sense of the word), within the music quite easily.
The album's preface, "Balloon", initiates the vibe of the remaining tracks, as soaring "ah's" and "ooh's" construct a melody vaguely reminiscent of the ones utilized in Indian or Middle Eastern music. This introduction flows directly into the next track, "Swimmer". Demonstrating Lufkin's range as she delicately sings both low notes, before swooning up to near-belted high notes (or at least as close to a belt as one will find on the album), it is far and away the standout track. The lyrics evoke romance and sensuality as evidenced by the lines "In my room, I've been swimming/And your pond has been warming/You bring out the best/You bring the highest high". There's an eloquence to this metaphor which cannot be understated and perhaps relates back to the title of the introduction. In the song, the narrator is almost like a balloon, drifting through Earth's atmosphere -- the "highest high."
Though some might think an album's true potential might be inhibited by including the key track so early on, each of the following songs also thrives in its own unique way. "Snow", for instance, is an intriguing break from the mainly acoustic guitar/electronic instrumentation, featuring horns and closing with a snare drum part, similar to what one might hear at the halftime of a college football game in the drumline. Many of the tracks here are soaked in reverb, which muddies the lyrical delivery, albeit not in an altogether negative way. This difficulty of deciphering the lyrics can, at times, contribute to the overall mystical mood of the album. "Words Flutter" exemplifies this phenomenon magnificently. It's doubtful it's merely a coincidence that the effects on Luskin's voice result in a delivery which, in fact, makes her words "flutter".
With two extremely mature and sophisticated releases already under her belt, it will be exciting to see how Luskin progresses on future albums. Hopefully, she maintains her trademark sound, while also incorporating new elements into it, to compose works which are neither "samesy" nor a sharp departure from her current style. Luskin has a good thing going for her here and it's hard to imagine she'll do anything but continue to produce quality releases.