From: Ink 19 [url]
Date: January, 2003

Terami Hirsch
To the Bone

The second full-length offering from Terami Hirsch is the kind of CD that, if marketed well and picked up by the right radio stations, could be extremely popular. The fact that it's being independently released makes it so much cooler, though. Hirsch could get a record contract with no problems whatsoever, but as it stands, she's more like a hidden treasure -- her audience has been built solely through word of mouth and the occasional live show, and her music is modestly produced and delivered.

And yet, despite her unabashedly lo-fi aesthetic, To the Bone is sonically kaleidoscopic; more so than her debut, All Girl Band, was. Firmly rooted in keyboard-vocal songcraft, Hirsch's work here is augmented by all manner of synth textures and the production work of Kevin Benson, who turns out a crisp and uncluttered mix. The immediacy of the vocals probably has something to do with the Hirsch recording studio -- a bathroom. Only on "Stained" does the subsequent voice processing dominate a little too much; the demo version (released on a 2001 sampler of the same title) feels more spontaneous. Minor quibbles aside, though, the aural palette employed here is wonderfully refreshing.

Listening to Hirsch is like meeting someone on the street, instinctively feeling safe in his or her presence and then falling into deep, honest conversation. There are no standoffish overtones here; no platform from which Terami is singing at you. Her lyrics are fierce, elegant and simple. On "The Breathing" she says, "I wanted to see the look on your face when I said/'I'm not afraid/The oceans can drown me/The moon can ground me/But I am not afraid.'" Unlike so many "singer-songwriters," ego hasn't soured the truth in these tracks -- they're unpretentious by default because they're coming from an unpretentious source.

The evolution of To the Bone unfolded through written updates on Terami's Web site. The lack of pretense inherent in her music carries over into her interactions with the wider world and those interested in her artistic output, and her Web site is an extension of the process, illuminated by the community section -- personal contact with admirers of her music (I doubt she'd call them "fans") and lively journal-glimpses into her life and the way music sometimes crosses through it. Indeed, it seems that Terami's door is always open -- to an extent. Despite what could be mistaken for forcibly happy online overtones, she seems to have a no-bullshit approach to those who follow her music, documented on To the Bone's "Boxes" ("So voyeuristic, aren't you?" she asks), and it grounds her offerings, allowing her to keep her distance without sacrificing musical intimacy. It's an admirable balance to achieve.

"Fire" is the record's emotional centrepiece, a track on which the interaction between piano, voice, beats and instrumentation is played out to its most fulfilling climax. I tried my hardest to be the impartial reviewer, but I couldn't stop crying when I heard it, which I suppose is a form of emotional impartiality (or at least, empathy) in itself. Acceptance and renewal, those utterly primal regenerative emotions, are laid out in five haunting minutes, and at first you have to blink and tell yourself, "Suspend your disbelief. Just take it for what it is." Because yes, the music isn't cryptic, it's not obtuse -- but it's real, and pure. And that's Terami's greatest gift -- to challenge you not to brush aside what she's producing as "seen it all before" material, but to view it for what it is: the honest communication of things that are almost always veiled or filtered.

Dan Stapleton