Germano walks a line between serene peace and dissonant chaos. She dips from one into the other on the piano while her voice remains unwavering; songs carry themselves with a cinematic air that feels compact, hanging on to every word and symbol with tenacity.
When Lisa gets happy, the environment behind her shifts into gentle strings and splendor; when she's contrite, the songs bend and warp under her guilt, where everything is wrong notes and missed beats. It's often so exactly choreographed that it seems she's conducting it by some precise magic in her voice. She commands each verse patiently; decades of time spent writing songs have rewarded her with an uncanny control over mood and she doesn't squander it.
No Elephants is a minor success in Lisa Germano's extensive catalog of music, carried by a unique sparseness of instrumentation, lucid songwriting, and the adroit, immerse production lent by Jamie Candiloro. She is at her best in uneasy tensions, dissecting minor key progressions into bizarre assemblages and serenely drifting away from the world. It doesn't carry the weight of prior successes, but that is kind of the point: weightlessness.
Candiloro, meanwhile, assists Germano on electronic drum loops, field recordings, and a lot of “cell phone,” which is to say a plethora of ringing sounds and the buzzing that a phone makes through speakers before you receive a call. I have heard the latter utilized before in a few songs as a novelty, but songs like “No Elephants” and “Dance Of The Bees” are the first real attempts I've heard to introduce it like a genuine instrument. Oddly enough it works, especially when layered into Germano's mandolin or piano and bass from Sebastian Steinberg.
There are a couple of lesser tunes on No Elephants, some that seem to try and ape the ephemeral beauty of “Snow,” however, I would not necessarily call them missteps. These songs contribute to the album's sense of light and space as much as the catchier compositions, gliding along like taking a sightseeing tour in a sleepy haze. These weaker songs might not be memorable but they faithfully maintain the album's atmosphere, to their credit. Only at the album's conclusion, the wistful “Strange Bird,” do I really feel I've been planted back on the ground, and by that time it's been a pleasant and welcome reprieve from the outside world.
Her first album since 2009, No Elephants is a delayed follow-up to Magic Neighbor, a continuation of its mood and stripped-back style. Scarcer and more removed than ever before, it shows the deliberate evolution of a kind of quiet and delicacy that can't be faked. In focusing her efforts, Germano has brought her trademark earnestness to the odd new circumstance of losing all touch with the world.