While the indie world anxiously awaits Modest Mouse’s next album, the nautically themed We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, singer-songwriter Corrina Repp has already quietly released an LP full of stories from the sea. From the dinner-plate-full moon on the album cover to Repp’s haunting mermaid voice, the total effect of The Absent and the Distant is that of a siren’s call. If you heed it and enter Repp’s little world, you’ll find a masterful series of songs.
One man who picked up on Repp’s promise is Red House Painter/Sun Kil Moon head Mark Kozelek. He started the Calo Verde label to release his own music, insisting it wouldn’t be a home to any other artists. Repp’s music obviously made him change his mind.
What amazes most about The Absent and the Distant is the understated way it elicits attention. Nothing much on the album rises above a whisper. Most of “Afloat” and “Heavenly Place” sound, like Gillian Welch’s “Dear Someone,” as if they were recorded on 1940s machinery. “Anyone’s It” has Repp’s voice standing at its most stark and alone, as only faintly humming keyboards and strings gradually join in behind the vocals. Repp sings, as she does throughout the album, of the absence and distance inherent in two individuals trying to meld their own egos, lamenting, “I can’t be anyone’s it/ Except mine.” Similar sentiments show up on “Safe Place in the World,” the only one of the album’s ten tracks to break the prevailing hushed, sad mode. The song’s insistent bass line swings it into almost bossa nova territory, as Repp asks a potential lover, “Did you come looking for/ A safe place in the world/ Here next to a girl?/ What if that safe place has/ Secrets no one understands/ Here next to a man.”
Two tracks make do without Repp’s low, rich, Chan Marshall-like voice. “Cinematic” is an adjective overused when describing instrumentals, but it can’t be avoided here. “Song for the Sinking Ship” opens the album with cello wails like whale calls. “Song for the Cardinals” is sunnier, even breaking out into a bit of carnival music revelry in its midsection.
The album’s centerpiece and perfect one-song encapsulation is “I’ll Walk You Out.” Over scratchy tape-loops and simple piano chords, Repp tells a man she prefers being alone to being with him, once again cementing the ultimately unknowable feminine mystique that informs much of the power of the album.