I discovered Charlotte Martin by chance in 2007. I was browsing the CDs at Newbury Comics — this was before I started buying vinyl 95% of the time — and I came across a used copy of Charlotte Martin’s Stromata. I was immediately intrigued because, well, she looked awfully pretty on the cover. But reading the song titles was what prompted me to buy it. There was a song called “A Hopeless Attempt” and a song called “Pills” and that appealed to me because I’ve always been drawn to dark and depressive music. Of course, I had no idea what Stromata was going to sound like, but I was fascinated enough to buy it. When I got home and immediately listened to it, I was quickly blown away. It was a gorgeous mix of artsy piano pop with dashes of subtle electronica. More than that, Charlotte had a powerful but pretty voice that reminded me of Tori Amos and Sinead O’Connor, two singers I’d long admired. And there were little moments when the music reminded me of Bjork, who’d been one of my favorite artists since I bought her Debut album on a whim from BMG music club back in 1993.
Ever since I bought Stromata, I’ve been following Charlotte’s impressive career, eagerly buying all of her albums, EPs, etc. And I’m pleased to say that she’s never disappointed me. Not once. The quality of her albums has remained consistent, if not getting even better during recent years. Her new album, Water Breaks Stone, is nothing short of brilliant. Each of its 10 songs are emotionally compelling, telling tales of love in all of its various forms, including the dark and obsessive. If these songs were instrumentals, they would still be powerful and rich in kaleidoscopic color, Charlotte’s amazing piano work — and triumphant arrangements — dazzling time and time again. The fact that the songs have Charlotte’s highly-potent, emotive vocals on top of them just makes them all the more awe-inspiring. And her poetic lyrics never fail to enchant. Take the first verse of the album’s intense, spine-tingling opening song, “Spine,” for example: “Like a mountain I have been forgotten / Standing in the second of a chance / Running is a loaded gun you borrowed / You and I the beggars in this dance.”
Another impressive song is the beautiful title track, “Water Breaks Stone,” which tells the tale of being conflicted in love. The sort of love where you know you’d be better off without it but, still, you can’t let go. “As the fire hates the snow / Can you please stay, please go,” Charlotte sings, her voice cascading over layers of vibrant piano chords and snappy, rapid-fire percussion.
“Words are dripping from my blood boy / And my head’s on fire,” she sings over boisterous drums as the propulsive “Battle Cry” begins. The roughly six minute song proves to be quite epic as it blends electronic thunderbolts with angry live drums and jittery piano, among other intoxicating sounds. It might be an expression of love, but it’s so emotional as to be startling.
“Where The Soul Never Dies” begins with quiet music that sounds a bit like a child’s music box as Charlotte sings softly. Just when you think that it’s a quiet ballad, you realize it was just the eye of the storm as the song erupts with thunderous beats and ominous piano and bass. It ultimately sounds like a song that belongs in a classic horror movie like The Omen or The Shining. “River dries up but the dribble spits out an anthem that I shouldn’t give,” she sings, her voice especially haunting. “Up the fight now for eternity in your heart / For the sick girl, for her skeleton, for her big world / And her alien.”
The album finally delivers a relatively quiet song with its precious closing track, “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made,” which mostly finds Charlotte sounding vulnerable instead of strong, her piano playing delicate throughout much of the track. Even when the piano finally flexes its muscles, it’s a stripped-down, bare bones sort of song compared to the nine tracks before it, proving that ultimately all Charlotte needs is her one-of-a-kind voice and her colorful piano to make a strong impression.
All in all, a superbly-executed masterpiece from one of today’s most unique and reliable singer/songwriters.