Odessa Chen: One Room Palace (Independent, 2003)

by Brent

Odessa ChenThis cd just kills me. There are so many painfully real dichotomies present with this cd, it just isn’t fair. On the one hand, you have a fabulously talented vocalist who could compete with any mainstream singer on Top 40 radio, yet on the other hand, Odessa Chen‘s fragile voice sings over dark melodies that will never win her a million dollar contract. Similarly, on one hand, on One Room Palace, you have some incredibly sensitive and memorable songs, performed with artistic integrity and dexterity, yet one senses that the general listening audience is not patient or mature enough to fully digest these gems. With One Room Palace, Odessa Chen has crafted one of the strongest releases in the independent music world this year, yet I can’t shake the feeling that too few people will actually hear this cd. Perhaps, then, the dichotomous nature of the cd’s title is fitting: music fit for a king (sung by a world-weary angel), listened to in a shack.

But, enough with my equal parts gushing and lamenting. Where I should start, in my description of One Room Palace, is an attempt to categorize the delicate music captured on the cd. One Room Palace is a conglomeration of neo-classical musical ideas, slowcore, folk, and singer-songwriter ideals. Drums are present, but sparse. Cellos find their way into many of the songs, while both acoustic and affected electric guitars play haunting melodies. The overall effect of the music can only be described with a series of competing adjectives: yearning, delicate, wintry, earthy, intelligent, chilling, intricate, folksy, dark, and comforting. And while the music, with its shoegazeque leanings and classical wit, is beautiful on its own, the real treat of One Room Palace is Odessa‘s unique, trembling voice. Chen sings softly, yet her expression is striking as she phrases her musical ideas tenderly. At times Chen just breathes her lyrics, barely registering sound, and shows a sensitivity in her singing that is largely absent in both mainstream and underground music. Chen‘s soprano, somewhat reminiscent of Leigh Nash (Sixpence None the Richer), Sarah MacLachlan, and Bjork (while being none of these), is truly hypnotic. Chen‘s vocals are controlled in terms of dynamics, yet unbridled in terms of passion.

Basically stated, I could go on and on about how beautiful One Room Palace is…and I haven’t even commented yet on the aching lyrics! Each song is moving & touching, and each song transcends the simple definition of being a “song” to being a moment of inspiration. How is a hobby music writer like me to fully give justice to this bold musical statement? Just when the music world calls out for a wildly talented and focused artist, Odessa Chen delivers, proving she is the real deal. May she transcend the relative obscurity she currently toils in, and may the dichotomies between her talent and celebrity wane in her favor.

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