19 June 2012

"The Absence" by Melody Gardot

The Absence
Melody Gardot
Date of Release: 29 May 2012 (CD, MP3), 5 June 2012 (Vinyl), 3 July 2012 (CD+DVD Deluxe Edition)

Okay, I was admittedly very stoked about Intrada's complete Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, but of all-new 2012 music releases that I know of this is without question the one that excited me most. I've been a fan of Melody Gardot's music for a few years now. She's one of the few artists I enjoy so much that I have made a point to buy every bonus track and miscellaneous recording I can acquire - a task made particularly frustrating since several such recordings have yet to be released commercially in the United States. On 2 March, the following teaser video was released for The Absence.

Gardot has been viscerally sensuous with her music to date, but the content of that teaser was sexuality of a different nature than what we had seen or heard from her. It alarmed some fans, who expressed fears that she had sold out in an effort to catch a wider audience. I wasn't concerned. True, she still isn't a household name in America but she's cultivated a pretty stolid international fan base. I just don't read her as being so desperate for our validation that she would stroll nude on the beach on the hopes that an audience she doesn't seem to need might take closer notice of her.

The music of The Absence confirms my suspicions. There's simply no way that an artist reduced to pandering to American audiences for record sales creates an album in tribute to a months-long trek through Portugal and Brazil. Gardot set out to explore the shared musical heritage of those two parts of the world, divided by the Atlantic. Had she consulted me, I would have suggested she instead title this album Tordesillas. Portugal was ceded Brazil by a treaty signed there in 1494 and it is because of that arrangement that there exists today the threads of music and culture that so appealed to Gardot. She may have rejected my suggestion, however, on the basis that the Pope's line of demarcation served to divide people whereas she seeks to find their commonality.

The Absence is partly a travelogue, though not in a conventional sense. One must be attuned to the distinctions of local flavors in order to tell which part of the world influenced a given recording. There are no obvious odes to specific cafes or hotels or anything of that ilk. The album opener, "Mira," works partly as an introduction to (or even as thesis of) the album and the music video is a perfect microcosm of the entire project.

Fan reviews have been mixed. Some have been disappointed by the change in her aesthetic from the smoky jazz of her previous work, finding this album too "light" for their taste. It's true, these arrangements are dramatically different in tone and tempo. Yet in some ways I feel this is the most intimate of her three albums to date. There's a sense that this is a soundtrack to her personal journeys, physical and philosophical. All I ask of any artist is authenticity. Gardot is as authentic here as she was on Worrisome Heart or My One and Only Thrill and if there's a point to be made that The Absence is incongruous with those two works then I'm not sure I understand what the value of that point is.

Those so inclined can research the impetus of each song (starting with the aforementioned commentary track), but such homework isn't necessary to appreciate what she has crafted with this album. It's a celebration of the universality of music.

Which Edition?

There are presently five editions available in the United States:

"Iemanja" on CD

The final track on the album proper runs 18 minutes on CD...because it has 11 minutes of dead space and then 3 minutes of assorted noises. No one seems to like this. The MP3 album sold by Amazon originally was the same lengthy track, marked as including a "hidden" track but after enough complaints were lodged, they replaced it with just the song itself. This is perhaps the most glaring deficiency of the CD edition.

Bonus songs

"Mira" (Hamilton & Yamandu Acoustic Version)
"Iemanja" (Hamilton & Yamandu Acoustic Version)
"La vie en rose"

You can get all three songs on the physical deluxe edition; unfortunately, they're on the DVD! I will never understand putting audio bonus tracks on a DVD. If you want them as audio files, you'll want to go to iTunes. "La vie en rose" is on both the standard and deluxe editions, but it's an album-only track on either meaning you can't just buy that one song. The two Hamilton & Yamandu Acoustic Versions are only available on the iTunes Deluxe Edition, but they can be purchased individually.

Video content

The only content not found in the iTunes Deluxe Edition is a 4:00 "Making of 'La vie en rose'" video featurette. Given the other described differences, I'm willing to make that sacrifice.

Track-by-track commentary by Melody Gardot - This one is kind of weird. iTunes includes a 24:57 audio commentary. Amazon says the DVD concludes with an EPK (electronic press kit) that runs 21:00. Theoretically, a completist might appreciate having both the iTunes audio commentary and the EPK film though it's unlikely there's a significant difference in content. The MelodyGardotOfficial channel on VEVO features a 7:25 EPK, which you can stream here:

Also available is a look behind the scenes of the "Mira" music video:


  1. I too am a HUGE Melody Gardot fan and have just about every recording, bonus track and collaboration that she's done. I'd love to compare lists sometimes. You forgot one bonus track for "The Absence" and that is the Japanese bonus track "The Willow". http://soundcloud.com/wshockley2/the-willow-japanese-bonus

  2. Thanks for sharing that. It's very different from the rest of the album! I'm not sure how I feel about it in the context of The Absence, but I did appreciate it as a song. I'm having a very emotional night in general (it's nearing 4:00 AM as I type) and somehow that recording may have been the perfect sound for how I feel right now. There's something moving about her willingness to let the song simmer and ache for seven full minutes.

    I'm aware of several miscellaneous recordings, but alas few of them are readily available here without purchasing imported CDs and I'm afraid my enthusiasm for Ms. Gardot's discography must yield to my budgetary restraints. I have a running list, but it's cobbled together primarily from Wikipedia, eBay and bouncing around various international iTunes stores one night. I only own a few stray singles.

    Incidentally, a couple months ago I wrote another piece about her music covering her first two albums ("Baby I'm a Fool for Melody Gardot") that may interest you: