Much of what I just wrote about Bon Iver, Bon Iver in my last review also applies to Lie Ices’ Grown Unknown. I guess I love this style! Like Bon Iver, Ices has made a patient, rich album that is also mysterious and intriguing. I usually try not to make random comparisons, but this one is apt, as Justin Vernon sings back-up on one of the songs. So, I like to think of these two albums as companions and complements.
Unlike Bon Iver, Lia Ices is a bit more mystical and mythical in her lyrics. “Love Is Won” appears to be about discovering forever/love as a “tiny jewel in the tiger mouth,” and strriving to “pounce so I can tame the cat / so I can find the myth and let forever out.” “Daphne” tells the story of the nymph Daphne who turned into a tree instead of surrendering herself to Apollo. A particularly amazing song, “Daphne” begins delicately, like you would imagine a Lia Ices song to be: her quiet and close voice over guitar and violins. Midway through, the song takes a turn, becoming heavier and more confident. The music parallels the story.
The more I listen to Grown Unknown, the more I am impressed with Ices’ voice. It never falls into cliched fragility or breathlessness, always maintaining strength. This makes these songs all the more memorable, as she keeps charge of their oft-changing nature. “Ice Wine,” as only her vocals and a string quartet, could have been insufferable with the wrong voice, but Lia Ices keeps it together, and fascinating. “I hate to leave you like the eyelash that flew,” is one of the few lines that can be distinguished: it is one of her more mysterious and dark songs. Other tracks also borrow a lot from classical music arranging, but always to add richness and texture (“New Myth” especially).
There were quite a few of these individual, creative, avant-garde female pop singers this year, from Anna Calvi to PJ Harvey to Kate Bush to name a few. Each were stunning in their own way, and Lia Ices was one of my favorites. Grown Unknown is bursting with musical ideas — folky songs, string quartet movements, seductive vocals, orchestrated stories — yet it is her voice that ties all these ideas together so brilliantly.