Review: Donna Fullman “happiness + victory”

You can tell you’re getting something special when it comes in the mail…it’s even more special when it’s from overseas!  Am I right?! After a chance meeting through the Twitterverse I was gifted with a CD (…CD…I’ll come back to that in a moment) from a sweet indie songwriter from the UK named Donna Fullman.

Now…I had visited her Bandcamp and really liked what I heard…but I wanted to withhold an honest, sit down, door shut, dedicated listen until I had a copy in my hands.  That has happened…and here’s what I think.

Out of the gates – with that first acoustic strum, the tap of the cymbal, the hypnotic finger-picking that carries throughout – her song Who convinced me that I was in for a treat.  Her album cover (above) had inspired a very…earthy feeling in me already, and I must admit this track convinced me for certain that this lady is a witch…

…I mean that in the kindest way.  And I’m not being serious.  Completely.  Though, the name that came to mind when I first listened was Jarboe of Swans. Donna’s unique tone had me under her spell.  I’m not meaning to sound corny…NOW I’m being totally serious.  Every instrument (melodica…I LOVE melodica) worked in perfect unison to create a song that is more than a song, it’s a ‘piece.’  It’s a trip.

I’m horrible at analyzing lyrics, and I ask for everyone’s forgiveness since I’m probably way out, but the mystical folky feeling evoked from the words were very…real life, if that makes sense.  For instance:

Wheels keep turning as I keep earning

but what am I learning? what have I become?

Her bridge…which is an excellent bridge I must say as a songwriter (…I’ll come back to that…bridges, I mean…along with the CD thing…) evoked this sense, as though a woman from long ago, the middle ages, maybe earlier, had been singing about the drudgery of a routine life…or maybe it’s a modern women in an office…or a woman who’s life is just become cyclical and she’s questioning…everything…

day in, day out, day in, day out

day in, day out, day in, day out

clocking in, clocking out

It’s not folk…or celtic…or gothic…or rock.  I honestly feel like Donna just writes, and this is what she creates, which is rare in this day and age.  I didn’t feel like Donna was trying to write an album in a particular style…this is a collection of songs, pulled together by what I can only assume is her natural talent or musical elbow grease…or both.

Moving on…Stone, the second track, breaks from the questions posed by Home and pulls in…well, the ‘happiness.’  Upbeat, fun…it reminds me a bit of Dar Williams, or even the upbeat folk music from the early 90s, like Frente.  Simple but lyrical…a song that feels like a moment in time that we’re sharing with her.

How we pull ourselves from under the darkness

That takes over us somedays

Just somedays somedays

Hopeful.  Also nice to hear!

Track 3, Changing Man, is the one song that I don’t keep on repeat.  It’s a well-written song, strongly written in fact, with very cool percussion but…something didn’t grab me.  I feel shitty writing this here because the whole album is great, but where Who pulled me in, and Stone charmed me, this one I guess didn’t have the same hooks.

Home pulls me back in…it reminds me of the indie music I heard in the early 90s.  The use of rhythm and her sweet voice , the contrasting chords, the phrasing…it’s a soft success, if that makes sense.  Softer songs that have to rely on the instrumentation, melody and lyrics are much harder to write than a track with driving guitar and heavy drums, in my opinion.

The chorus gave me chills…similar to what I get listening to Toad The Wet Sprocket from their Dulcinea album, plus there’s a hint of Aimee Mann.  It’s catchy.

The album closes out on Hello Shanghai, a great bookmark to Who. Again, I apologize if my interpretations are fugged up, but where the album began questioning the routine of work and life, this track feels like a critique of modern digital-obsessed life:

We don’t make things anymore, Just files and files and files that you can store…

…And friends are names without faces…

I felt like there was a call to action, and that action was to take stock of our lives and what is ‘truly’ important.  It’s a very organic message, which along with the organic instrumentation (even the synth felt natural, in the same way Sparklehorse always used synth)  If I were to start a rumour, I’d say that the album was recorded entirely in the woods where the cover was photographed.

I picture Donna and her bandmates (a very skilled Marianne Hillier-Brook and Nelson Day adding subtle and smooth percussion to the album, Nelson also playing the great guitar, and Lindsey Oliver on double bass) sitting in a circle in the trees conceiving of and recording each track.

But enough of my rambling.  What did I really think?  Donna came out of nowhere (to me, at least), and did something very few artists can: after one listen I’ve become eager to hear her next album.  Is this five song EP a triumph?  It’s thoroughly (and repeatedly) listenable, I catch something new each time around (which is always a treat) and I’ve played it for a variety of friends and they all enjoyed it as well.

…if it’s not a triumph…it’s at the very least a happy victory.

Thanks to Donna for the album…I can’t wait to hear ‘Inner World’ when it’s done!

You can find Donna at her website, www.donnafullman.com, follow her on Twitter, find her on Facebook, and you can sample her songs and purchase her album on Bandcamp (as you’ve discovered if you clicked any song links above!)

A second congrats, Donna…your five songs have made me write my longest blog ever…and I never even got back to the CD and Bridge stuff…I’ll write that tomorrow…OVERFLOW! 🙂

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One Response to “Review: Donna Fullman “happiness + victory””

  1. New Music: Donna Fullman, Leonard Cohen, Hospitality « Under the Pink Says:

    […] wrote a review for her previous album happiness + victory last year.  This new song, By The Fire, is a pretty intro of what’s to […]

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