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Terese Taylor is a singer/songwriter based out of her adopted home of San Francisco. Since 1999 she has been building a following in North America, and she has released three albums (in 1999, 2003, and 2006) prior to arriving at “At Your Mercy Circuit”. All of her hard work hasn’t yet translated into any mainstream success, which partly can be subscribed due to her indie – and alternative music background - and the fact that singer/songwriter music has never been in vogue in the mainstream popular music consciousness. That doesn’t change the fact that “At Your Mercy Circuit” is a wonderful, and sometimes quirky, rock record that appeals to both ends of the spectrum. It has something for those who appreciate introspective, minimal music - and those who love female-fronted rock albums. It is a time capsule back into the 90s when strong females ruled the airwaves, and the album charts in both the United States and Europe.

The album is mainly a record that is based around Taylor’s almost conversational vocals. These vocals sometimes make Terese appear unconfident or unsure of herself, her own voice, and the style that she has chosen. The setup is minimal with only a guitar, percussion and Taylor’s voice to guide the listener through the album. In a superficial manner, “At Your Mercy Circuit” is reminiscent of a decidedly unpoppy variation of what Sheryl Crow, Paula Cole, Jewel and Alanis Morissette did during the 1990s. The foundation for the record is to be found in the rock genre, even though the rock aspect is peripheral at best as Taylor’s quirky and biting lyrics and parlando vocals take centerstage. Most of Taylor’s songs are quite introspective, gloomy and not really hook oriented. It is a mostly slow record that is sometimes bluesy, and occasionally flirts with country. There are no excessive bells or whistles, and the roomy production emphasizes the nakedness and inwardness of Terese Taylor’s wonderful depressing rock songs. It is very similar to Jewel’s “Pieces Of You” that way, although the two are worlds apart in terms of vocals, lyrics and their general approach to songwriting.

‘Snow & Ravine’ is both bluesy, and slightly country (especially due to its rocking beat and usage of a violin). ‘His Own’ sounds almost improvised, especially vocally. ‘Jigsaw’ is almost grungy in its guitar work. ‘Folsom Street’ is a bluesy ballad, and ‘Drug Problem’ is a slow fragile rock song and both are easily the most obvious candidates for a potential single release treatment. ‘Folsom Street’ almost sounds like a discarded Norah Jones song circa “Come Away With Me”. That isn’t to say that the other tracks on the album aren’t worthy of your attention because they are – but these obviously stand out more. The record is fully committed to its niche, and even though it is probably a good deal more introspective and gloomy than what is usually expected in this genre, it works brilliantly within context. Even Terese’s conversational vocals get stronger and more nuanced as the record progresses, even though she’s as far away from a conventional pop singer or singer/songwriter as you could probably imagine. Her voice would work wonderfully in an alternative – or a Seattle grunge rock band as Elastica. The minimal nature of the songwriting and instrumentation greatly enhance the emotional resonance of the songs, as the listener can really focus on Taylor’s voice and lyrics – and isn’t constantly distracted by vocal acrobatics, instrumental fireworks or studio trickery.

The greatest strength of “At Your Mercy Circuit” is its disarming honesty, and that it delivers just that what it promises. Terese’s vocals might not instantly appeal to the listener, but once having absorbed the record over a number of listens – its simplicity and honesty reveal the enduring power of its central songwriting axis. Less is always more, and Taylor and her backing musicians understand this better than most. Nothing about this record is excessive, and overindulgent in any way, and that makes the effort all the more powerful. The album remains at a steady midpace, and occasionally the band will rock out (as on ‘Doesn’t Shine’, which also has some truly spectacular bass licks) – but that only seldomly happens, and the record mainstains its pondering, pensive pace for the majority of the album's running time. There aren’t any major hiccups or shortcomings, other than it is a record you need to be in the mood for. That’s the only drawback this record has for people who like their rock music more upbeat and light-hearted. Terese Taylor’s lyrics are wonderful explorations of the human condition, love and relationships.

Terese wrote the record in collaboration with Klaus Flouride of legendary California punk rock/hardcore pioneers The Dead Kennedys, which is somewhat of an odd pairing – but the results speak for themselves on this record. On “At Your Mercy Circuit” she is backed up by an all-star cast of musicians of various caliber, such as James Whiton (double bass, Tom Waits), Will Hendricks (bass, Eleni Mandell, Califone), Garrin Benfield (lead guitars, Andrew Bird), violinist/cellist duo Teddy Rankin-Parker & Kristina Dutton (Glen Hansard, Iron & Wine) and Patrick O'Heffernan of 'Friday Night Live' fame. The album is imbued with an alternative spirit, and although the format is as mainstream as they come, “At Your Mercy Circuit” isn’t your typical singer/songwriter record. Terese Taylor is too quirky to conform to the limiting conventions of that genre. The appeal of the record lies in the fact that it uses the tropes of the singer/songwriter genre, and goes off to the dark side with them. This isn’t some syrupy, saccharine record about infatuation, love – but an introspective examination of the toxic nature of relationships. As such it is different from the majority of what is released normally in this genre, and “At Your Mercy Circuit” is so much better for it.

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The latest Caelestis release, a single in collaboration with French underground death metal combo Archenterum, is a curious experiment in sound that works just as much as it feels contrived. It is a bold continuation of the alternative/gothic rock sound hinted at on the previous “Heliocardio” EP, and it feels contrived in the sense that the whole beauty-and-the-beast approach has been perfected in every conceivable way during the second half of the 90s with the countless The Gathering and Theater Of Tragedy clones.

10685520_820112608040128_8649896406997933706_n‘Spyglass’ forms the debut of newly acquired bass guitarist Fabiana Figurati and keyboardist Piero Avitabile. In the interim vocalist Vera Clinco has quite literally found her true voice, and is singing with as much passion as she did on “Heliocardio", but she has considerably increased her range and power. As an added bonus Clinco is allowed to write lyrics in multiple languages (now including English and French next to their native Italian) – and this newfound freedom gives the single a sense of nuance the previous EP didn’t have. That Clinco is at long last singing to her range is a wonder to experience. Where she lacked confidence and power on the “Heliocardio” EP, here she’s coming into her own as a frontwoman. Never before exuded her singing this much passion, sensuality and power. Hopefully she’ll continue to grow as a singer as she did here. The lyrics fit seamlessly with the chords and the song’s flow, and there’s a wonderful solo or two by Cataldo make the entire thing even more exciting.

That the whole beauty-and-the-beast approach (in terms of vocals, and music) has been done to death by now should come as no surprise. Despite the worn-out nature of the formula it’s the Caelestis aspect of the single that shines the brightest. Not to say that Archenterum aren’t competent in what they bring to the product, one can’t help but notice that it is redundant and somewhat contrived within the context of the ‘Spyglass’ song format. As a stand-alone experiment it is a commendable genre exercise, but hardly the revelatory discovery it was when Theater Of Tragedy pioneered it in 1995. The formula is worn-out, yet the song itself is one of the best things the band has written within its new creative paradigm. The composition is far more open, with vocal breaks to give Vera Clinco the space that she needs to let her voice soar, and Cappiello now is more confident within his niche than ever before – and it shows. The song is the most straightforward and hook-oriented Cappiello has ever written, but it goes through a variety of moods before concluding, and there are tons of details hidden within.

The fact of the matter is that Caelestis’ lion share of ‘Spyglass’ is where its real strengths lie. The addition of Archenterum’s rather formulaic and stale sounding death metal is good for what it is, but the song hardly needs it in the first place. In fact it would be interesting to hear this song in its pure Caelestis form, without the addition of the rather uninteresting growls and stock heavier riffing. The keyboards are at the forefront of things, and they sometimes tend to get in the way of the celestial sound effects and new age segues that featured heavily on the “Heliocardio” EP. The band has mastered the standard pop/rock song format, and there’s no awkward transition to be found through out the entirety of the single, which is testament to Cappiello’s continual growth as a songwriter. Whether this signifies Caelestis having fully abandoned their ambient, new age and lounge sound of the past remains yet to be seen. ‘Spyglass’ is the most logical continuation of the sound the band aimed for on “Heliocardio”, but Caelestis has yet to enroll a full-time drummer in order to capitalize on that sound on the live front.

Figurati and keyboardist Piero Avitabile only feature minimally in this new song, and they are kind of lost in between Cataldo Cappiello’s wonderful guitar work, and Clinco’s soaring angelic vocals. It will be interesting to hear what the both of them will bring to future Caelestis material, especially Figurati with her finger-picked bass guitar playing should feature prominently in the mix. It would be interesting to hear Caelestis return to its ambient lounge sound with Figurati’s throbbing bass lines, and Avitabile’s wonderful keyboard enhancements. Given how catchy and poppy ‘Spyglass’ is it wouldn’t be surprising if Caelestis decided to capitalize on its success, or the song’s formula. On the back of ‘Spyglass’ Caelestis can go in any direction they so desire, as this is as far from “Sky Shards” and “Nel Suo Perduto Nimbo” as one could probably imagine. It is an interesting change that the band has undergone, but it isn’t withouts its charms. The increased vocal presence of Clinco, and Cappiello’s fiery guitar work show Caelestis poppy side more than ever before, and never has it been as strong and convincing.