Agnes Milewski - Pretty Boys and Ugly Girls

by Gisele Grignon

I'm not a fan of vocal athleticism (such as with any of the talented tartlets in the most recent Lady Marmalade redux). To me, it's like engaging in a wonderfully stimulating conversation with an established thinker, who in an attempt to ward of any hint of boredom, interrupts the satisfying flow of the lively dialogue by digging out and then shoving under his fellow conversationalist's nose, a stack of his oratory awards. Not only does the blatant cry for attention destroy the heart and soul of the otherwise enjoyable debate, it also permanently taints the relationship between said speakers.

This Nyah, Nyah, Nyah-I-can-pull-more-trills-and-frills-out-of-my- repertoire-than-you-can inevitably saps the energy and the natural beauty of even the most eloquent of songs---sort of like jumping on roller coaster expecting a ride of a lifetime, only to then realize all the breath-taking, stomach-lurching dips and dives were limited to the first 90 seconds of the ride and the balance is nothing more than a straight ahead, so-what? ride to the finish line.

So? So that's precisely the opposite of what you experience when you first listen to Agnes Milewski, who was born in Poland and now lives in Austria (and was named 2008 Austrian Newcomer). Angelic, ethereal, otherworldly: reviewers and the truly influential music experts---consumers--- have trotted out these labels so often it seems like a fire sale in Elton's closet.

That doesn't take away from the fact that these qualities actually fit Milewski. But more than the sum of these labels, Milewski is a study in contrasts. The first cut on the inaugural "pretty boys and ugly girls", called "Falling Grace" is the first subject in this particularly unscientific study. There's a rocking Bollywood feel to this one, yet it resists the natural temptation to dip into cheesiness.

That's just a hint of contradictions to come with this captivating singer songwriter. Milewski, via her own music and lyrics, is at once sensual and pure, girl next door yet exotic femme fatale, young and nave yet mature and all-knowing. Not surprisingly, she lists Bjork, Sufjan Stevens, Kate Bush and Ani Difranco among her influences. And while some artists who sing in something other than their mother tongue can sound deliberate, even awkward---as though they're concentrating so hard on the equivalent of musical tongue twisters---Milewski's efforts seem, well, effortless. Whatever mispronunciations or stilted phrasings may jut out of the otherwise naturally soothing musical landscape are quickly forgiven, or simply unnoticed. Her voice is THAT engrossing. Ditto her piano skills (she accompanies herself on all but two cuts).

That said, I STILL don't get the reasoning behind the inclusion of the mysterious and unsettling close to cut # 5 "With The Favourites" (yes, that's the Canadian/European spelling of Favourites")a bizarre, thick soup of howling, growling that's simply tough to swallow.

No matter. Milewski offers a fresh, unique voice for an equally fresh and unique take on subjects of the heart, soul and imagination. To shamelessly rob her own MySpace description of her work: "Poetry you can move your head (or whichever body part you prefer or that independently succumbs to the beat*) to." *Parenthetical comment mine.

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