NPR logo First Listen: My Brightest Diamond, 'All Things Will Unwind'

First Listen: My Brightest Diamond, 'All Things Will Unwind'

My Brightest Diamond's new album, All Things Will Unwind, comes out Oct. 18.

Garrett MacLean hide caption

toggle caption Garrett MacLean

My Brightest Diamond's new album, All Things Will Unwind, comes out Oct. 18.

Garrett MacLean

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My Brightest Diamond (a.k.a. Shara Worden) arrives fully armed with serious art-pop credibility. A veteran of Sufjan Stevens' Illinoisemakers who used to perform under the moniker AwRY, she's earned the admiration of Bon Iver, The National's Bryce Dessner and The Decemberists, among others. But ever since she first arrived on the scene, the operatically trained performer has drawn upon classical musicians as co-conspirators — not for bombast or sentimentality on overdrive, but just the opposite: for warmth, for intimacy. Acoustic instruments bloom under human touch, and that's what My Brightest Diamond is all about.

Here, her colleagues are the excellent New York alt-classicalists of the yMusic Ensemble, who recently put out a great recording of their own, Beautiful Mechanical, with music by Worden as well as St. Vincent's Annie Clark, Son Lux's Ryan Lott and new-music mainstays Judd Greenstein, Gabriel Kahane and Sarah Kirkland Snider. yMusic provides a tremendous amount of rich texture throughout All Things Will Unwind, from the cartoony flourishes in "We Added It Up" to the gamelan-like, ringing percussion of "Ding Dang" to the folksy Americana of "There's a Rat," My Brightest Diamond's take on Woody Guthrie-era protest songs.

While Worden has stepped away from her operatic training, there's a sense of extended melodic line, and of vocal firepower, that is the hallmark of a classically trained vocalist. There's a deeply personal quality to her songwriting: On All Things Will Unwind, out Oct. 18, she explores everything from Obama-era partisan politics ("We Added It Up") to the global financial meltdown ("There's a Rat").

Some of All Things Will Unwind's strongest tracks, however, chronicle her enriched perspective on life as a young mother, as in the sublime and haunting "Reaching Through to the Other Side": "Oh, how gorgeous; oh, how gorgeous," Worden sings, adding, "this struggle now." Worden is such a strong performer and shines so brightly, and her work has such a clear vision; would it be too easy to compare her to one gem in particular?

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