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Maria Taylor “11:11” (2005)

Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Maria Taylor is hardly a household name, and yet she’s been around since 1997 when, at the age of fifteen, her first band Little Red Rocket released their first album on Geffen Records. She formed musical duo Azure Ray with her former Little Red Rocket bandmate, Orenda Fink, releasing their debut album in 2001. Azure Ray began a six year hiatus in 2003 and, apparently not one to stand still, Maria Taylor released her debut album “11:11” in 2005.

I bought “11:11” on the strength of lead single Song Beneath the Song, which I absolutely loved. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who loved it since, I have discovered, that it was featured prominently on TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, even having an episode named after it.

Now, to be honest, since it was a CD I did what I usually did with new CDs: I skipped through the other tracks to see if there was anything else that grabbed me. A typical problem with CDs, though, is that if nothing excites me within the first 10 seconds, *POOF* , I move on to the next song. It also doesn’t help that sometimes I have the attention span of a goldfish.

Needless to say the CD itself only got played a handful of times. I enjoyed it well enough when it was on, but I remained unfamiliar with the majority of the songs because they had only ever been heard as background noise, rather than having been listened to properly. Song Beneath The Song got ripped to MP3 and played often on my iPod, but the album itself got stored and eventually got dusty.

Fast forward a few years and the album finally made it’s vinyl debut with a beautifully mastered and beautifully pressed 2015 Record Store Day Edition of “11:11” on super quiet powder blue vinyl (Saddle Creek, LBJ-74). Somehow I missed hearing about the release back then though, and I only found out about it this summer.

Now… Anyone in their right mind would likely ask me at this point why I was interested in buying the vinyl for an album that I had barely listened to and had, essentially dismissed. Well… there are a lot of reasons, but to put it in a nutshell, I have discovered that (A) the simple act of playing an album on vinyl demands my attention, allowing me to properly discover/experience the music and (B) I have also discovered that listening to music on vinyl connects with me emotionally in a way that CDs and MP3s usually do not. (Of course, you’re free to believe that it is all in my head.) Even when I rip my vinyl to MP3s, the simple act of listening to it and creating the MP3 connects me to the music more than simply downloading or streaming…

ANYWAY…

Such is my love for Song Beneath the Song that I was considering buying the vinyl edition, especially when I read a few really favourable comments about the pressing quality. Before clicking *BUY NOW*, however, I went back and re-examined the rest of the songs, just to make sure that I wasn’t throwing my money away on an album that was going to, once again, get dusty (I had to look it up on Spotify because, for some reason, Bandcamp doesn’t allow you to listen to all ten songs).

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I really, really liked the album a lot!

Even though I didn’t really know these songs very well, having only heard them a handful of times in passing, they weren’t completely new to me. There were phrases and pieces here and there that I recognized and that recognition brought with it the thrill of remembrance and a kind of associated pleasure. Having also had ten more years of musical experience behind me, I was more open to instrumentation that would have been experimental then, but is commonplace now.

In the years since the album was first released, there have been a lot of changes to the musical landscape. There have also been a lot of changes to the types of music that I enjoy and the types of music that I seek out. Consequently, I am able to appreciate the album on a much deeper level than when I first heard it all those years ago.

In a way, I think this proves the point that familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt. Sometimes, familiarity breeds comfort and even brings joy.

Perhaps that’s why, having now purchased the vinyl and listened to it properly in sequence, several times, I can wholeheartedly endorse it as a wonderful album! It took me awhile to “get it”. Perhaps the album was always this good and it was just me who was a Philistine?

Whatever the case, I am extremely glad that I finally got my hands on the vinyl! From what I was led to believe, it was an extremely limited pressing (and the vinyl hasn’t been repressed since) but there are still a handful available directly from the record label via their Bandcamp page.

While it is uniquely Maria Taylor, it nevertheless encompasses a plethora of styles and moods. I’ve picked up bits and pieces that are reminiscent of such disparate artists and Ride, Cocteau Twins, and Editors… and that’s only mentioning the artists that most people have heard of. There is a lot going on with this album, and it’s the kind of album that, like a favourite sweater, grows more comfortable each time you experience it.

Those who know me know that I don’t generally like slow or mid-tempo songs. That said, this album manages to keep my attention all the way through. Maria Taylor’s understated, almost sleepy vocals lend a kind of ethereal dream-like quality to the music, and yet there is enough going on with the melodies and instrumentation that it never lulls you to sleep and there is always something new to discover, even after repeated listens: there is always something going on deep in the mix just out of earshot (a song beneath the song, as it were). There is a constant contrast between fast and slow, joy and sorrow, darkness and light. On headphones, she whispers in your ear like a drowsy lover, while fireworks jubilantly explode and fields of daisies languidly bloom.

Aside from the sublime Song Beneath the Song and my other favourite track, One For The Shareholder, highlights on the album include album opener Leap Year (which is brilliant!!), Xanax, Birmingham 1982, Nature (which takes a minute to really kick in), and the gorgeous Lighthouse (whose opening rhythm feels like waves crashing and echoing on a distant shore). Speak Easy, with it’s kitschy 1930s ukulele-vibe, is easily my least favourite track, but not one that is so bad that I feel the need to skip it.

Taken as a whole, the album is a real pleasure to listen to. It’s mostly uptempo track listing perfectly compliments decompression or chilling out, but it can also uplift you when you need it. It won’t necessarily get you dancing (though I have strutted around the house while listening to Song Beneath the Song) but it will absolutely get you feeling good. It’s a hidden gem that deserves to be in your record collection!

If you are a vinyl collector, you will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of this fantastic pressing. It is beautifully mastered, with a wide soundscape and pressed on super quiet, gorgeous powder blue vinyl… yet for some reason surprisingly affordable. If you prefer CDs or streaming… well, I guess that’s fine, too. (LOL!)

Check out the playlists below! What do you think? Were you familiar Maria Taylor before? Are you a fan? I’d love to hear from you! Tell me what you think in the comments section below!

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