Ypsilanti native Shara Worden's moody pop music and swooning voice has earned her big-name comparisons to Björk and the late Jeff Buckley. At first blow, it's a fair trade: like Buckley, her classically-trained voice is versatile enough to fill a room or a shoebox, and she can stack stunning layers of harmonic strings and melodies with Björk's icy grace. What separates Worden, who performs under the name My Brightest Diamond, is the way her voice melts the snow at the edges, stewing it down into a black ice that is as terrifying as it is beautiful.
The daughter of a traveling musician/evangelist, Worden earned an opera degree from the University of North Texas before moving to New York to pursue further studies. Once there, she became exposed to the avant-pop of artists such as Antony and the Johnsons, whose sound is built largely around dramatic vocal melody and classical song structures. Spurned creatively by Antony's fragile sound, she began studying composition with Padma Newsome (who has also worked with the National), eventually forming a form of classically-influenced pop music that is as arresting as it is accessible.
Her first record, 2006's Bring Me the Workhorse, was a set of dark guitar rock anchored by a string quartet and held aloft by the float of Worden's voice. The former head cheerleader for Sufjan Stevens' Illinoisemakers, she opened Stevens' 2006 tour, playing her own set before joining Stevens' band on guitar and backing vocals; subsequent tours found her sharing the stage with the National, St. Vincent, and the Decemberists.
This June's A Thousand Shark's Teeth, which was originally conceived six years ago as a composition for string quartet, is strikingly different from Bring Me the Workhorse. Like Joanna Newsom's Ys, these songs stretch and bend the conceptions of what pop music is supposed to be, eschewing the verse-chorus-verse, voice-and-guitar form for fluid structures, songs that don't resolve because they're still going places, a snowball perpetually rolling down a hill.
Paradoxically, A Thousand Shark's Teeth is much more of a head-nodder than its predecessor. Worden's guitars – she prefers them loud and clean, pealing like a morning bell – play lines that alternately stomp and softshoe. Plucked violins flit in and out of the mix in “Black and Coustaud” while oboes groan and Worden's heavily processed voice sputters in both English and French. And “Apple” finds Worden coming across like a slinkier Tom Waits, the percussion falling in large, steady drops around her soft-pulled voice. But, as always, the shining glint of My Brightest Diamond is Worden's voice. It's a testament to her skills as a composer that despite her voice's strength, it never overpowers the music; she's as comfortable dressing down as she is belting up. Like a master dancer, her voice guides the music gracefully, never pushing it past its limits and firmly in control.
- Marty Garner