Misery as its own reward
There is something about the allure of romantic despair. On her latest album, Excerpts from a Love Circus, Lisa Germano wallows in it, yet she seems reluctant to crawl to the shore. Listening to her songs makes you wonder how she can drag herself out of the house and expose herself to strangers. Then again, embarrassment is not something emotionally wrecked people feel. Whether Germano is a romantic casualty who doesn't give a damn anymore or another tortured artist who doesn't mind disrobing in public is beside the point. Her music is so full of somber delights, it compels you to listen--even if your critical faculties dismiss her as just another kook with a license to record.

Germano does not write novelty music or folksy, singer-songwriter meanderings. She writes soul music, meant to be heard when you are alone. Her songs are supine, disconsolate affairs for late nights and early hours, that time when wine starts to taste suspiciously like embalming fluid and sorrow leads to an uncomfortable sleep full of desolate, bizarre dreams. When you wake up from the music's hypnotic lull, you are glad Germano is doing all the suffering.

Her vulnerable humanity--often expressed in crazed mutterings--is hard to resist. She sounds true, disturbing, and beautiful, the way Syd Barrett used to sound before they locked him up; but it probably takes such hopelessness to write and perform music so steeped in quiet resignation. Yet Germano is determined to go to the root of her pain, dissecting her loneliness with the unsentimentality of a child in a biology lab. Each song is a sad entry in her despair diary, a crumpled "Dear Lisa" letter. Germano sings, whispers, and growls as if misery is its own reward. She finally accepts her loneliness as a trusted companion.

The music is as fragmented as her soul: choppy, clanky, dissonant, fragile, and beyond categorization. Pianos, guitars, violins, and drums barely adorn the narrative. Shoved in the background, the instruments hold the songs together like weak glue; they're plucked, beat, and plonked upon in ways that resemble her croaking voice.

Still, there is an elegance to her madness. A track like "Singing To The Birds" suggests Germano has to sing her stories, even to those who can't come up with an answer. The song offers a tiny glimmer of hope in the line: "You could learn to love yourself."

--Philip Chrissopoulos

Lisa Germano performs Thursday, April 24, at Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth.

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Philip Chrissopoulos