Maria Taylor is a member of the dream pop band Azure Ray which, after Bright Eyes, is one of the most well known band on the US record label Saddle Creek but never reached mainstream popularity. Maria Taylor and her Azure Ray band mate Orenda Fink have both released solo work and 11:11 was Maria Taylor's first solo effort which came out in 2005. Since then she has released four further solo albums as well as another Azure Ray album.
Although I am a fan of both Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink's solo albums, I tend to prefer Maria and I find myself coming back to this album, 11:11, over and over again throughout the years.
=== Track List ===
Song Beneath The Song
Two of Those Too
One For The Shareholder
=== Atmosphere ===
With only ten songs, 11:11 is a short album but I do not feel short changed by it at all. I feel that the tracks flow well and Maria has made a perfect little album without unnecessarily padding it out. The atmosphere is quiet, calm, laid back and dreamy. Some songs have a quiet contentment to them while others are bitter sweet or sadder in tone. The music of Azure Ray often has a very haunting, almost ethereal quality to it and I find echoes of that within this album from Maria, but Maria's work seems less cold, more alive and more human to me.
=== Individual Tracks ===
The first song, Leap Year is gorgeous. This is definitely one of my absolute favourites on the album and is a breathtaking opener to 11:11. It is about a long distance relationship, about waiting and longing for someone. It starts "save my money for that plane ride" and we have simple, understandable lyrics about passing of time as Maria sings "time will always slip through, I will wait for you, but please come soon". The lyrics go through the seasons and show how time has passed from summer, autumn, winter... You can hear the emotion in her voice but she doesn't over do it or add too much drama - it is simple, real, believable and from the heart. Although the lyrics are simple she has a way with words and can express herself well without saying much. I like her nice turns of phrase which makes me smile like "the wind sounds angry but my coat's kind".
Song Beneath The Song is a bit more upbeat in atmosphere with a poppier atmosphere and a cheerier melody, but the chorus repeats "it's not a love, it's not a love, it's not a love song". Maria Taylor has said this is simply about the double meanings in songs and was a response to someone referring to one of Azure Ray's songs as a love song when it wasn't. It is just supposed to encourage you to look beneath the surface but this song is not too deep itself, just an enjoyable, catchy song. You can hear the vocals of Bright Eyes singer Conor Oberst faintly in the background, but he does not detract from Maria's vocals at all.
Two of Those Too is a sweet song with beautiful clear and pure vocals from Maria, showing how good her voice is. She does not need to do anything spectacular or show off with vocal gymnastics - she can just sing a fairly simple melody and it sounds great. The atmosphere of this one is lovely. I would say it is nostalgic and gives an air of quiet contentment. Maria sings about going to college "there was something there, maybe it was the trees or the flowery air, or that everyone seemed so glad they were there, and we were two of those too". I think a lot of people can relate to this kind of feeling about something new and I know I can. She sings about how things have moved on now "everything must change, so be thankful for everything, and I am...I am...I am".
Nature Song was not written by Maria herself but by an ex boyfriend of hers, Louis Schefano. I really like it and I think it fits well on the album here but I would not say it is one of my stand out favourites. It has a fairly relaxed but sad atmosphere, sounding somewhat tense in parts, and is about the breakdown of a relationship. It is beautifully sung and beautifully arranged.
Lighthouse is a beauty of a song. It also has the same kind of laid back but slightly bittersweet, hopeless feeling which I get from a lot of Maria Taylor songs as well as from Azure Ray. I love her voice when she sings "And don't expect too much, okay? 'Cause the best, the worst might have passed anyway". I'm not completely sure of the meaning of the lyrics but personally I feel like it is saying don't overthink, just get on with living.
One For The Shareholder has a different atmosphere and sounds harder, harsher and slightly menacing after Lighthouse. It has a more penetrating and repetitive beat. Maria Taylor has said this song is imagining a one night stand. The chorus repeats "you can't love me, you can't love me" in a hypnotic way and all the lyrics have a sadness to them. I enjoy this song. I think it slightly breaks the flow between Lighthouse and Xanax, but not in a bad way. This slightly different sounding song just grabs my attention and makes me continue to fully pay attention to the music, stopping the calmer songs blending into one.
Xanax is another of my absolute favourites. The lyrics are simple but extremely effective and have a sad beauty to them. As the title hints, the song is about anxiety and Maria starts by listing fears "afraid of an airplane, of a car swerving in the lane, of a dark cloud too low, of being swept away by the undertow, of a building tumbling down, of the train when it's underground, of the icy mountain roads we have to take to get to the show..." This list gives an impression of the relentlessness of these feelings and is sung in a clear, pure voice. At the end it builds up to a kind of release, as Maria repeats "it's just now that I've found a place where I can breathe" and "where I can sleep".
Birmingham 1982 is a sweet, innocent and simple song about childhood. Birmingham is the town in Alabama where Maria Taylor comes from and in 1982 she would have been five or six years old. She sings of memories of childhood such as "fireflies, four-leaf clovers, fingerpainted skin, we don't know where we're going, we'll get nowhere if we've forgotten where we've been". The song has a slight hint of country twang to it which you don't really get too often in Maria's music but this probably reflects the atmosphere of Alabama where she comes from.
Speak Easy is a love song which I feel is ever so slightly cheesy and also has a little bit of a country twang to it, as you can slightly see from lyrics "and there was a time my heart was aching, yes there was the day I swore it was breaking, under a lucky star our love was born brand new" but despite this cheesiness I do enjoy it although it is not a favourite. It is quite a minimalist song in which the focus is clearly on Maria's vocals and the musical accompaniment is definitely playing the role of backing.
Hitched! is a beautiful song which tells a story about true love still being possible after heartbreak, a love which is "worth any compromise" and "prove to be worth a fight". It has a kind of fairy tale atmosphere for me as the backing sparkles and the lyrics even start with "once upon a time". It has a kind of innocence to it. It is the shortest song on the album at 2:51 but tells a whole story in that time.
=== Over all ===
I love this album and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who likes good quality female singer songwriters. Maria Taylor's music is subtly beautiful and is worth repeated listens. If you like Azure Ray then definitely listen to this. I would also recommend it to fans of singers like Jaymay, Sarah Harmer, Jenny Owens Young although I think Maria Taylor has a slightly different, dreamier vibe to them.