Though Fairly Forgettable, 'How I Knew Her' Is A Pleasant Listen
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 23:02
An album of quirky, light, and earthen folk tunes, Nataly Dawn’s How I Knew Her is caught somewhere in between innovation and inconsequence. Its music is pleasant enough—at times, granted, overly eccentric—but it’s actually Dawn’s introspective and therapeutic lyrics that set her solo debut apart from other similar records that are quickly classified as coffee shop white noise.
The daughter of a pastor and a member of the YouTube duo sensation Pamplamoose, Dawn was quite obviously influenced by her past, both lyrically and musically, in the creation of How I Knew Her. Her tone is markedly spiritual, using her record as a cathartic liberation of a sort, but her style is purposefully distinct from her former project. Bright, airy vocals and bouncing acoustic melodies juxtaposed beside deeply reflective and religiously troubled words result in a sound that is most simply described as “girlishly mature.”
The songs “Still a Believer” and “Caroline” illustrate Dawn’s stylistic intentions best. For example, the former track is bubbly and fun, with skipping trumpets, a gamboling bass, and a frolicking piano strain, but the sound seems odd considering the track’s lyrics, as she sings: “Grandma says I’m going to hell / Cause I met a boy and we make rock music / And the trouble is I know she means well … And that’s why I’m still a believer / So if you ever meet my grandma / Don’t believe her.” Her frustration with her traditional upbringing is blatantly apparent here, as it is on “Caroline.” Her sprightly vocals sing about a girl who used to be “clean,” and who, now, is seen as “Something tarnished / Something borrowed, something used.” Nevertheless, Dawn says, “You look just the same to me / Yeah, I don’t see what they see.”
There are certain facets of the record, though, that are notable for more than their lyrics—songs like the title track and “Even Steven” are far from musically forgettable. “How I Knew Her” builds slowly—it’s essentially barren in the beginning, but by the end, the song is both menacing and thrilling, with sharp, twanging violins and persistent, bluesy chords that emerge after nearly two minutes of anticipation and suspense. In “Even Steven,” however, Dawn wastes no time in leaping into a frisky, dogged, and slightly intimidating rock progression.
On these last two tracks, as well as on others, Dawn’s style is influenced, to varying degrees, by the blues. How I Knew Her’s “Please Don’t Scream,” for example, has an incredibly jaunty and vintage rock sound, complete with sliding guitar riffs and licks. “Back to the Barracks” has a comparable vibe, but it’s a wholly different song. Stripped down and bare, its somber, serious tone fits well with its ominous, deep, and uneven guitar line.
Similarly raw, the album’s closing songs are stunningly poignant and emotive, despite their melancholy character. With waltzing pianos and swelling strings, Dawn’s “Why Did I Marry,” finds the singer-songwriter at her absolute best—she’s sweet even when she’s entirely serious. The last piece of How I Knew Her, “I Just Wanted You to Get Old,” is just as lovely. A tender apology to a loved one who has passed away, the song is little short of flawless and beautiful. It’s the perfect end to How I Knew Her, showcasing Dawn’s delicate, gentle vocals, honestly unembellished, style, and meditative inquisitive lyrics.
With its unavoidable oddities and patent philosophical bend, some listeners, ultimately, may be turned away by the very features of How I Knew Her that make it especially unique. It’s the sort of record that’s so musically pleasant that forgetting it is easy, almost, natural—at least, though, it challenges listeners to think and reflect a bit before they do.