Pinning Maria Taylor to the commonplace “love it or hate it” debate associated with the Omaha, Nebraska-based Saddle Creek label would do her an unnecessary injustice, regardless of her work on the label as part of Now It’s Overhead, with Orenda Fink in Azure Ray, and for her solo debut, 11:11. Any stigma that surfaces around high school lunch-table discussions about Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Cursive shouldn’t have much to do with Taylor’s debut, another entry in today’s folk pop via breathy downer lyrics and occasional wisps of electronic elements.
She sometimes sounds as if her vocal chords might give out on the last piece of a verse before the chorus (an infrequent inflection she shares with labelmate Oberst), but Taylor mostly sounds confident, even in her relentless despair. She’s multitasking throughout 11:11, handling almost all of the songwriting along with lead vocals, acoustic guitar, drums and piano. Among a host of guests lending a hand is Andy LeMaster, Taylor’s Now It’s Overhead bandmate. He provides the subtle beat programming for opener “Leap Year,” a successful meld of folk structure and pulsing electronica.
Even if the title is a little thoughtless, “Xanax,” another winning blend of acoustics and beats, is Taylor’s detour into shoe-gaze. A lush but still gentle ode to Ride on the surface, “Xanax” mimics an ultimatum that Taylor presented previously on the coffeehouse-friendly “Two of Those Too” when she warns, “You can’t sustain anything, everything must change,” over a Pink Moon-like piano and acoustic team-up. “Xanax’s” mantra leans toward a be-all-end-all blanket of bad news, too, in its repeated, “There’s just a time when we must all let go.”
These few tracks work wonderfully within Taylor’s plan on the album. Outside of an almost laughable club parody in “One for the Shareholder” and a couple monotonous moments, 11:11 is mostly strong, even if its spotlight is often on human weakness.