Alina Simone's music is a critical lightning rod. Nary a review of the Ukranian-born, Carrboro-based songwriter forgoes the female icons whose music Simone evokes, if not mirrors. The usual suspects are Cat Power, P.J. Harvey and Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker, yet such cursory referents run the risk of missing the convictions of her first LP, Placelessness. Simone's lyrics, for instance, are obsessed with darkness, deletion and disrupting patterns of both. She looks for light in shadowy places, mentioning "starlight on the black water" during one of the album's highlights and noting that "the stars seem extra bright" during a night that resembles a "velvet black painting." "They're shouting, 'Quiet, quiet!' into the starry night," she says, her idealism stymied by someone else's surrounding still life.
Simone's mid-range guitar even establishes a persistently dark gray tone, and several of the album's most magnetic moments emerge as she breaks it—a caustic cello here, a wayward second guitar that chases her lead in atonal blurs there, drums stapled to her guitar rhythms across much of the record. These performances are steeled by the relentless drive of a seeker, after all, Simone's backstory feeding her lyrics with this sense of constant, instinctual motion indicative of a lifelong refugee looking for contentment. Placelessnes, then, is an album couched in disappointment: During "Swing," she needs to teach a lover how to want, and "Riot Act" finds her envisioning her and her lover's fall and crash.
In love, though, she finds what she's after: "Pacifica" shows glimpses of a promising new life, Simone offering a "blank heart for you to fill." This only comes on a day-trip along the seashore. Even at her happiest, Simone is committed to nothing that can't come along. During seven-minute closer "Country of Two," the barreling songwriter finds validation in a perfect companion, but—even then—it's all about escape. Her "brand new colony" is a "country of two," and, from a lover's high, the sovereign set can look down upon the geography they rejected: Literal and sincere, in a voice that wends between wail and whisper, she sings, "I don't feel foreign or confused anymore." Literally and artistically, Simone is finding her place.