A year ago today, March 13th, after a morning vet visit for Tyler, I found myself pushing a grocery cart through over-crowded aisles in our local supermarket while Diane stayed home. Panic and fear were in the air due to many shelves being bare and others getting there. Some shoppers swept entire rows of nonperishables into their carts, which they then used like bumper cars to bang their way to freedom. A twenty-something kid bulled past an older gent to grab something. Two women came close to blows over a few cans of corn. (It reminded me of scenes from Black Friday, in a way, though I’ve only witnessed such confrontations via clips on the local news.) It was there, while waiting in the checkout line, that I received a text from a coworker informing me that we’d all be working from home come Monday the 16th.
Today, I was again in line at the same store – but for curbside pickup. Where once I stopped in the grocery store on my way home from work several times a week, now I place an order on Wednesday, tweak it over the next few days and pick it up on Saturday or Sunday, venturing outside the car only to open the trunk. (I’ve come to envy those with internal trunk latches, believe it or not.) As you might expect, I always have something on the stereo – often E Street Radio, but as often my latest favorite find.
I start there with this review of sincerely, e, the latest album from Elizabeth & the Catapult – aka New York City-based singer-songwriter Elizabeth Ziman – because, well, it’s hard not to. Over 12 songs and 51 minutes, she conveys the wistful reality of life circa the COVID age. As she sings in “birds and the bees,” the opening track, “so tell your boyfriend that you love him/and tell your girlfriend you wish her well/‘cause the birds and the bees they’ve all come to agree/that no one’s gonna save them now/and tell your mother not to visit/there’s no more use in going out/‘cause the birds and the bees they’ve all come to agree/that no one’s gonna save them…”
Many of the songs were born from pandemic-fueled solitude. Zoom meetings, FaceTime calls, text messages and social-media posts are no replacement for in-person interactions, of course, yet here we are, over-consuming that which we over-consumed before, only more so, all in hopes that someone, somewhere, will share their screen or click “like” on our latest screed. Not every song is about or inspired by the novel coronavirus, however. Some, such as “Birds and the Bees,” also weave in environmental concerns, while others hone in on such things as intimacy, identity and making sense of one’s life.
A few are, melodically speaking, infectious confections. “thirsty,” for instance, bops along like one of those old Lou Reed Pickwick tracks (or, at least, my memory of them) while sporting lyrics about the yin-yang fallout from an ended relationship.
“sha-la-la,” meanwhile, carries a cool doo-wop vibe. As a whole, the songs feature melodies seemingly plucked from the ether. “this rose comes to life” is a good example; it wafts in as if on a gentle wind. “sweet chariot” is another example: “being human is a rare a condition/get in line now, here’s the test/to have patience, when your ambitions/must surrender to the truth at hand…”
Obvious from the above clips: the songs float in from the great beyond with such force that you’ll swear they’ve been with you forever and a day. And did I mention Ziman’s vocals? At times, they swoop high and then low in a delectable manner – and, when not, are the sonic equivalent of one of those velvety black-light posters of yore. Her voice shades plush but never fuzzy, grainy but never coarse, and is always warm, always hypnotic. In short, if you listen to one new album today, tomorrow, next week or this month, make it this one. You’ll be left slack-jawed, guaranteed. It’s great.