My Brightest Diamond‘s Shara Worden has made a name for herself over the past half-decade as a powerfully dark singer-songwriter, her deep and bluesy vocals carrying the impassioned and mysterious ballads and anthemic rock songs of first two albums Bring Me The Workhorse and A Thousand Shark’s Teeth. Likewise, her bold and unique vocals have brought an added something sinister and special to other artists’ albums as well. She stole the show on The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love, singing the part of the Evil Queen. And earlier this year, she brought a greater emotional storm to Colin Stetson’s New History Warfare Vol. 2. But as outstanding a performer as Worden is when she dives into stark, haunting and sometimes abrasive sounds, she had slightly different plans for her third album, All Things Will Unwind.
Appearing on the cover of the album with an elated look on her face, and the orange glow of sunfire surrounding her, Worden, through appearance alone, gives some indication that things have changed for the brighter. Indeed, All Things Will Unwind is not an album of elegantly chilling ballads or slow building works of art rock, but a fully orchestrated musical journey that bears much of Worden’s characteristic sonic touches, but on a much bigger, and often more lighthearted scale. Working in collaboration with the yMusic chamber ensemble, Worden stirs up an imaginative world of frequently dramatic, sometimes whimsical and consistently interesting arrangements, subtly punctuated with socio-political commentary.
As the album kicks off with “We Added It Up,” Worden seems to abandon the nuanced approach for which she’s typically known, instead opting for a bouncy, almost silly set of childlike rhymes about ideological differences. Given Worden’s breathtaking talents as a vocalist, it’s not a spectacular showcase for either her songwriting or singing skills, though it might be for Mark Russell. But over the course of the following ten songs, she takes on varying tacks, most of which prove more successful. The beat-laden “Reaching Through to the Other Side,” on the other hand, is a much more graceful and touching song, as Worden, who gave birth to her first child last year, sings of that very experience in both physical and ethereal terms. There’s an old-fashioned protest song feel to “High Low Middle,” which begins with the kind of one-liner that more Wall Street occupiers should plaster on their signs: “When you’re privileged/ you don’t even know that you’re privileged/ when you’re not/ you know.” And the harmonium-driven closing ballad “I Have Never Loved Someone The Way I Love You” is both artfully poetic and heart-wrenching, as Worden sings curiously tear-jerky lines like “When I grow to be a poppy in the graveyard/ I will send you all my love upon the breeze.”
On one level, the consistently engaging arrangements from yMusic keep these 11 songs threaded together, but the continually shifting styles across All Things Will Unwind also make it My Brightest Diamond’s most fractured album to date. Not all of Worden’s experiments yield thrilling results, but as usual, its best tracks are truly breathtaking. Though it may be an imperfect album, when it strikes the right chord, All Things Will Unwind unveils the same kind of magic that has made My Brightest Diamond so captivating all along.