Anna Waronker - California Fade
Five Foot Two
Once of hyped '90s band That Dog and author of a worthy solo record nearly a decade ago, Anna Waronker has defined a kind of Southern Cal existence; she's wife to Steve McDonald (he of the great, hugely undervalued Redd Kross), sister-in-law to a Go-Go and daughter of the Godhead producer who, among other things, helped create the whole Laurel Canyon, California sound. So it's no wonder multi-instrumentalist Waronker knows exactly what she's doing as a writer and producer; it's in her experience and blood. Immaculately self-produced, written, sung and performed — with help from her pal L.A. musicians — California Fade's closest contemporary male or female might be Aimee Mann; many of Waronker's lovely, sparingly arranged songs would fit swimmingly in a P.T. Anderson film — and that ain't faint praise: She can sting on the most subtle, gentle, trusting, even cinematic levels.
"What Do You Do?" moves like a hazy sun setting over Pacific Ocean blue — and then come the strings. Ideas that'd be navel-gazing or affected in other hands sound as accessible and reassuring as a child's sandbox in Waronker's. Little twists of insight make the precious profound. Her sun-warmed voice sways delicately between the breathy and the intimate, equally at home perhaps serenading a newborn ("Beautiful Life"), nursing another's self-destruction ("Scared"), or cutting herself loose from a fucked-up scene ("Leaving Home").
Of 11 songs, only "I Don't Wanna"' stumbles; the petulance and punk rock riffola feel forced, but Waronker immediately redeems on "How Am I Doing?," a tender alien lullaby of self-doubt whose distant and haunting piano ostinato leaves an indelible impression.
"Cannibals and Quicksand" is as beautifully wrought and arranged a love song as any you'll ever hear. The lyrics (which affectionately reference the Velvets) are scarily comforting — Sun rises with us/ It'll set with us too — it's powerful, California dreaming of an existence that's forever beyond most of our grasps, as if the world is designed for others, and in that is the song's sadness. What's amazing is this song isn't irony, and Waronker is so obviously grateful, so obviously in love. It's the kind of personal truth you don't hear anymore, the kind that'd win a wink and toast from Dennis Wilson's ghost. The whole album's honest like that.
In "Spinning Out," Waronker could be singing of some faded screen star who called it quits in decrepit manor off Mulholland Drive: In the house up on the hill/ She left many shoes to fill/ Love and kindness in her will/ And a place where time stands still. But the song switches gracefully between first and third person, and soon it's obvious who the woman on the hill is, and that this song, is Waronker's own personal spiritual. Highly, highly recommended.
(Go to annawaronker.com for details on the download and limited edition vinyl and extra EP.)