Carolyn Mark, a singer-songwriter/chanteuse from Vancouver, doesn’t have a pretentious bone in her body. Her records sound like the kind of parties I’ve always wanted to go to. Her latest effort, Nothing Is Free is beautiful, reflective, clever and very fun.
It begins with a slow, absorbing tune called “The Business End,” which contains jokingly somber lyrics like “too lazy to beat myself up being too lazy to, you know, beat myself up” and “feelin’ bad about not feelin’ bad enough.” Her songs are always full of single lines that jump out and attack, making you think, while still striking a funny chord: “…that airport feeling, being made to wait for expensive things you don’t need” (“Happy 2B Flying Away”).
She can be absolutely deadpan in her performances, and you almost take her seriously before you realize that what she is discussing is absurd. The narrator might believe it, but Mark clearly doesn’t.
Her songs portray real and human characters who ask big questions: “does true love exist / and if it does then what the fuck are you supposed to do with it?” (“Pink Moon and All the Ladies”). She offers potential solutions to these grand problems, but never pins down a perfect answer.
Mark’s clever wordplay reaches beyond one liners and stretches to the whole concept of the song. “The 1 That Got Away (With It)” takes the nothing of ‘the one that got away’, and manipulates it to show the melancholy and desperate view of the heroine. She wants to be as memorable as the one that her love interest couldn’t have, but at the same time still be in the picture, so that she can be a part of his life as well. At the heart of it, there is a universal struggle: how we can make the most impact on those whose lives we want to affect? How do we still maintain our dignity while working to get what we want? Even if society frowns upon it.
She is one of those songwriters who is 100% human and has no qualms with letting you know it.
The only track that feels out of place is “Destination: You.” It is overproduced with lots of synthesized beats, and her voice is buried in layers of reverb. The song is still catchy and her lyrics manage to shine through the mix.
Nothing is Free is another triumph from Canada’s current sweetheart, Carolyn Mark. It is beautiful and reflective, mournful and celebratory, and above all, it is true. Mark may not have experienced every one of the dysfunctional relationships and situations she describes, but you can tell she truly understands each of them and will make you understand them too.