My Brightest Diamond’s strangeness is given full exposure on All Things Will Unwind‘s cover art, an unholy mix of loud colors and ugly feathers, with an irritating faux-naïve facial expression from Shara Worden. It’s a cover that ultimately serves its purpose though, hinting at Worden’s bizarre aesthetic, her diffuse sense of oddness and weakness for theatricality. She may not have the weirdo cachet of Björk or the focused specificity of Tune-Yards’s Merrill Garbus, but her lack of attachment to a defined persona is in some ways a strength in itself.
Several years after leaving Sufjan Steven’s backing band, Worden is making music that sounds more like his than ever. But this, like her venal sonic connections to Fiona Apple and Jenny Wilson, is a surface connection, and All Things Will Unwind sounds more developed than My Brightest Diamond’s past work, ditching the rock trappings for a kitchen-sink, show tunes-aping orchestral style. The result is kind of a mess, but the album works better than her previous ones because it manages to sweep that mess into something that sounds intentionally diverse rather than frustratingly scattershot. Three albums in, Worden seems like she may never develop a satisfyingly concrete sound, but the bold, chaotic atmosphere on display here is still relatively satisfying.
Worden may still sound glancingly like a lot of other people, especially Nellie McKay at this point, but that’s tempered by her instrumental acumen and distinctively flighty voice. Take, for example, the pronounced Sufjan influence, which shows up in the kind of dinky orchestration and flute trills that open “In the Beginning” and the fife-and-drums procession that dominates “Ding Dang.” Worden uses this as a base point, but the end result falls at the other end of the spectrum from what Sufjan usually produces: While his songs are elastic but ordered, carefully composed suites and marches, Worden’s are both more poppy and more unhinged; she employs unusual instruments and her voice drops into strange registers, giving the feeling that anything might happen.
Added to this is the fact that, while often guilty of overcooked obviousness, Worden is a more than capable lyricist. Tracks like “There’s a Mouse” and “High Low Middle” aren’t subtle, but they’re punchy, smart, and studded with attitude. Along with her twitchy voice and herky-jerky musical style, her words are a potential pitfall that end up succeeding through a little extra ingenuity and wit. If the music was a little more twee, a little less creative, or a little more self-serious, it might be unbearable. She inevitably succeeds by walking this fine line, a quality that gives her music its own stamp, saving it from the trap of uninspired pastiche.