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Charlotte Cornfield - The Shape of Your Name Music Album Reviews

With a delivery as authentically conversational as her songwriting, the Toronto-based musician treats even the broadest themes on a person-to-person scale.

Across three albums, the Canadian songwriter and musician Charlotte Cornfield has crafted refreshingly levelheaded music. Rather than indulging dramatic flourishes, Cornfield is concerned with the search for comfort and health, and though her lyrics may seem slight, they are deeply felt. As a session drummer and a booker for Toronto’s Burdock Music Hall, her work requires personability, and personability is Cornfield’s defining trait as a songwriter. She also contributes the bulk of instrumentation to her new album The Shape of Your Name, and plays drums on every song but two.

The Shape of Your Name holds its own against some of the better singer-songwriter records of the last few years: Short Movie, but less existential; No Dogs Allowed, but defying the digital world rather than embracing it; Hell-On, but grounded on Earth, without Neko Case’s restlessness. While all these albums engage in varying degrees of introspection, Cornfield focuses less on her relationship with herself than on the patience and reflection required for relationships with others. Treating even the broadest themes of love and loss on a person-to-person scale, she refuses to succumb to saccharine platitudes. Musical details, like the time signature jumps on the deceptively uplifting “Andrew” and the synth pad that opens “Storm Clouds,” will catch the uninvested off guard.

Even when her songs aren’t actually joyful, Cornfield takes palpable pleasure in crafting a witty lyric. “You make me sad/Like an undergrad with a guitar,” she sings on “Andrew”—followed, of course, by a brief electric guitar solo. She can bring the pathos as well: Opener “June” ambles along with couplets like, “Your lips are loose and full of ego/And still I come here just to see you,” feeding into an outro most songwriters would use as a chorus: "I don’t know if it’s you or just the shape of your name on my page/That gets me every time.” Her delivery is as authentically conversational as her songwriting, lending weight to even banal sentiments like “all I really wanted was you.”

Cornfield has made a patient record, trusting her listeners to follow her through slower passages. “Silver Civic” boasts a chorus worthy of a Kacey Musgraves ballad (“When every silver Civic was your car/And I was gonna be a star/And you were gonna be mine”), but doesn’t deploy that chorus until almost halfway through. “Wheels” depicts an emotional reaction to the death of Degrassi High star Neil Hope without a trace of self-consciousness about the specificity of its subject matter. Even the confident, upbeat “Up the Hill” buries guitar squalls and manic drum fills beneath confessional lyrics. Yet that relative immediacy makes it the strongest song on a consistently solid record, not to mention one that actually grooves.

There’s less playfulness on Shape than Cornfield’s previous albums, though humor still pops up unexpectedly, as with the non-sequitur ad-lib that closes “Up the Hill”: “I lay down, and beside my head there was a dead fly,” she announces, as the guitars ring out. More such moments of spontaneity and risk-taking could entice listeners turned off by the abundance of mid-tempo ballads, but this record benefits from not trying to be a masterpiece. Instead, it stays small and approachable, a reward reserved for those paying attention.

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