The Tiny

Close Enough

(Eyeball; 2005)

By Scott Reid | 23 February 2005

Lets get right to it, then: The Tiny's Ellekari Laron sounds a lot like Joanna Newsom. Sometimes it's a vague resemblance, and if the entire album was kept to a few echoing moments, I'd be stretching, you could rightfully call me lazy, and we'd both have a short, awkward laugh about it. But it's mostly just eerie. From the first note of the stunning "Closer," you can hear it: the child-like enunciation, the unmistakable warble in the falsetto, and the light, slowly bouncing melody (in this case, delivered with a piano, bass, and cello) that barely holds it all together. The production is equally bare, and both champion an extremely minimalist approach. Though Larson takes a decidedly more direct lyrical route, it's no less poignant at moments than Newsom's slapstick fairy-tales.

Now, in reality, I have no idea if The Tiny's vocalist, Ellekari Larson, has even heard Newsom (though she likely has), finds her anything remotely close to an inspiration (she probably doesn't, especially given the relative proximity to both record's release dates) or is already sick to her ass with comparisons to an elven singer that lives, if this shoddy site Google directed me to is any indicator, over 5500 miles away. But The Tiny (whether the group as a whole likes it or not), like the actual songs, will find themselves overshadowed by the familiarity of Larson's vocals. And it actually isn't all that much a tragedy; her voice proves itself capable of being consistently moving, but her songs just aren't as good as Newsom's; they're way too homogenous (most songs are around or under three minutes, and bleed into one another like a loosely connected song cycle) and pared down to a significant fault.

The significant fault: Close Enough is a near disaster of a talent becoming complacent so early in the game that you've almost got to assume she left any variety for her next "bet you didn't see that coming!" record. Except that record may never come, and even if it does, it doesn't do much to excuse a talent like Larson running in circles her first time around. Larson's songwriting seems stuck in a morbid tempo that puts her just ahead of I Can Live in Hope Forever-era Low, and its steady diet of minor chords, funeral-dirge piano/organ, and downright suicidal cello/viola becomes cumbersome long before she tests our patience with the it's-my-album-i'll-sing-in-and-out-of-pitch-if-I-want-to combo of "No Money" and "Lake."

The thing is, though, that both of those songs fluctuate between excellent (check out the first half of the seven-minute "Lake" and the first verses of "No Money," before its sheer repetition gets the better of it) and inexplicably boring. And, unfortunately, t
hey're hugely indicative of the rest of Close Enough. "Closer" hits the hardest mostly because it hits us first, and even by second track "In My Back," the aesthetic becomes blunted. Both it and "Opened Up" feel like mildly pleasing underdeveloped segues to the record's second wind: "Second Time Around," "Across the Bridge," and the closest the record comes to being upbeat, "Just Like You." Neither of the three differ aesthetically from what surrounds them, but each have a melody strong enough to outweigh the fact that they don't really go anywhere.

Which brings us back to the issue of complacency: a
s each song flows into the next without much of a change in tone, tempo or arrangement, The Tiny's continual reliance on what works not only results in some downright disposable songs, it takes away from the kind of material that's likely to win her fans on a track-by-track basis. Only on "The Lake" does she attempt to push herself, and though its structure is expanded, the repetition is still intact; she fills out the track's seven minutes with instrumental passages that offer little actual development. As yet another three and a half minute ballad, it's by far one of her best, but the last thing this record needs is two more interchangeable ballads.

Don't get me a wrong, despite an unwillingness to push themselves into areas that would go a long way in making Close Enough more an artistic challenge than "something for fans of The Milk Eyed Mender to check out," a lot has been put into each of the record's ten tracks. And many who've been waiting patiently for a safer, less eccentric Newsom that's closer in the grand scheme of things to Cat Power than Vashti Bunyan will get just as much out of it. But for those of us that read the words "a safer Newsom" as "a neutered folk artist," Close Enough's biggest flaw won't be a hard one to put our fingers on: it's just too unassuming, too safe, too familiar, too homogenous and too inoffensive to make it the kind of record that spawns comparisons instead of being smothered by them.