Friday, September 14, 2007

Sara Bareilles - Little Voice

Sara Bareilles (pronounced: bar-rell-is) has anything but a little voice. The 25-year-old's major-label debut Little Voice is a misnomer from the time you push play. In a similar mold as A Fine Frenzy from yesterday, but Ms. Bareilles brings her voice full of passion and verve from the very beginning. While she was born and raised in Eureka, CA (about 100 miles south of the CA-OR border) she moved to Los Angeles when she began attending UCLA's School of Communications. While in school she co-produced her first demo, and began playing open-mics then shows in the L.A. area. She eventually signed to Epic Records in 2005 and began working with producer Eric Rosse to make her debut album. While most the songs were already on her self-produced album, they were perfected and orchestrated professionally with Rosse.
Most people will immediately compare Ms. Bareilles to Fiona Apple or Norah Jones and she's okay with these comparisons: "That's fine. I love Norah's subtlety and Fiona's fierce lyrical prowess." Her vocal range is truly dynamic and she uses this to her advantage to emote quite poignantly. This is truly amazing considering she's had no formal training. Although she is easily comparable to the vast number of female artists with pianos she manages to bring something to the musical table that stands out from the crowd. While some songs lend themselves to Top-40, there is a precocious nature about Ms. Bareillis that makes her seem more approachable. She hasn't been polished and packaged for stardom like a Christina Aguilera or Michelle Branch or Vanessa Carlton...yet. Songwriting and singing seemingly come very easy to Ms. Bareilles. This fact is one of her greatest strengths. She also knows a bit about writing songs about love; most of the album deals with the subject. Thankfully she has enough unique takes on the subject to make each track sound fresh. The song below was an iTunes Store "Single of the Week" a while back, but has since taken off. In fact, she is opening 10 shows for Maroon 5 with the highlight surely to be a performance at Madison Square Garden on October 10th. At which point she'll then join Paolo Nutini and open 8 of his shows. So, Ms. Bareillis is already in some good company that will make her more of a household name.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Fine Frenzy - One Cell in the Sea

Alison Sudol is only going to become even more popular. Rather, A Fine Frenzy will surely make a name for Alison Sudol. The 22-year-old singer-songwriter born in Seattle, relocated to Los Angeles when she was just 5. She taught herself to play piano in her mid-teens and recorded a short demo that immediately caught the attention of Capitol Records. After signing to Capitol she performed with great success at SXSW in March 2007. The stage name for Ms. Sudol, A Fine Frenzy, comes from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

A Fine Frenzy's brand of music is influenced, as she says, by the likes of Keane and Coldplay. Ms. Sudol plays the piano beautifully and creates infectious melodies with her powerfully restrained voice. She sounds like an artist well beyond her years. With appearances on the likes of Jay Leno and Carson Daly, clearly either someone is listening or she's getting great PR. Either way, it's refreshing to hear another young voice that bends the mold for females with pianos. Unfortunately, the album as a whole does not really take off. The 14 songs on her debut One Cell in the Sea (July 2007) kind of blend together and sees her repeating vocal techniques. Her lyrics are decent, but she tries too hard to be profound. While she may wish to emulate Chris Martin, she doesn't reach his emotional gravitas rendering the music just okay. Even though the album is enjoyable, and shows a gifted artist at the beginning of her career, it may leave some disappointed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Commercial Girls

In the last week there have been a couple songs in television ads that have caught my attention. One of which is vastly known around People-In-The-Know circle and the other still living in a bit of obscurity. The more "obvious" example is Apple's use of Feist's "1234" in their new iPod Nano ad. The other ad is for the second season of NBC's Heroes that uses a song by one of my favorite personal secret artists Rosie Thomas. Only hearing 30-60 seconds of each song seems somewhat unfair, so I wanted to share the wealth.

Leslie Feist first hit my unknowing ears on the Broken Social Scene album You Forgot It in People (2002) and fell off the radar for a couple years until her breakout solo album Let It Die garnered critical acclaim across the board. She is a mellow songstress with a captivating voice and a penchant for melody. Her live shows have been known as very laid back and she doesn't always seem excited to perform in public. Her newest album The Reminder was highly anticipated and remains on top sales charts. This new album sees her with more mainstream sensibilities as well as sleeker production.

Rosie Thomas is a gem. One of those artists that I've enjoyed since I first heard her album If Song Could Be Held (2005). While I have yet to experience her newest release These Friends of Mine (2007), from her new label Nettwerk (formerly on SubPop), I have a good feeling about it. It's quite short (only about 30min) and sees her recording anywhere she pleases from the studio to the kitchen. This range of spaces gave her the freedom to create wherever inspiration struck. It was recorded over a period of a couple years in her friend Sufjan Stevens' Brooklyn apartment with him and songwriter friend Denison Witmer. Somewhat ironically, she wanted more freedom from due dates and pressure that SubPop was placing on her, and made the jump to Nettwerk. With the debut of that Heroes ad she may not stay as much a secret any longer.

The End of Britney

While I didn't watch the VMAs, the inevitable buzz was created by the out-of-sorts looking Britney Spears and the maniacal ranting of Kanye West. So, I thought it only fitting to post a Spears song not performed by her. Instead, it comes courtesy of production whiz Mark Ronson off his Version sampler disc. It just goes to show that sometimes a well-written song can make mediocre artists look that much better. With the unofficial end to her career, I hope to continue not watching the VMAs.

MTV barely shows music videos, and their award show has morphed into even more of a joke. In fact, most music award shows have totally gone down the tubes. When was the last time winning a Grammy meant something? With 137-ish different categories they've become devoid of value. It's like when Homer Simpson won one, throws it off a balcony and hits a hotel bellhop in the head and the bellhop says, "aaaawww, a Grammy?" Exactly. Without much further delay.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


While listening to some other underground/indie hip-hop in preparation for a review later this week, I thought about another favorite DJ/MC/Producer named Edan. He hasn't put out an album since his fantastic The Beauty and the Beat (2005) but his newest track was on a compilation earlier this year, and felt the need to share. It's pretty much 2.5 minutes of straight flow, and I think it's pretty sick. Keep in mind that he does everything by himself; production, sampling, MC, et al.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

Sam Beam is a somewhat unlikely hero who gained fame/exposure with his beautifully sparse rendition of "Such Great Heights" by The Postal Service, which appeared in the universally loved or hated movie Garden State. The mellow indie-folk artist based in Miami, FL is inconspicuous with his longish hair and full mane of a beard. Beam was discovered by SubPop! fat cat Jonathan Poneman while circulating his lo-fi tapes. Poneman then requested a more formal submission; which came in the form of two full-length albums by Beam. These demo albums were shaved down to the 12 tracks released as his lo-fi debut The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002) which was followed by the decidedly hi-fi Our Endless Numbered Days (2004). There was also an intermediate stop to collaborate with Calexico in 2005 on their In The Reins EP which combined Calexico's brass horns and southern twinges with Beam's melodicism and gravitas. While collaborations usually see both artists floundering in the deep end of their combined artistic visions, In The Reins allowed Mr. Beam to explore a richer and broader palate of sounds that had yet to be seen on any of his previous albums. These influences have since carried over to his highly anticipated forthcoming album The Shepherd's Dog.

Iron & Wine's music is not poppy enough to be fawned over, (like his label mates The Shins) but is always immensely satisfying. Mr. Beam displays pinpoint attention to detail when crafting his songs. He consistently demonstrates an ability to bring stories to life through evocative lyrics, comfortable rhythms, and sensual melodies. This indie-folkster also plays guitar wonderfully and manages to come off with the utmost sincerity. If a comparison had to be made, it would be safe to say Mr. Beam is a combination of Nick Drake and Ray LaMontagne (except I don't think Mr. Beam is quite the recluse Mr. LaMontagne is said to be). Below are two tracks from the forthcoming The Shepherd's Dog that showcase both the Iron & Wine we've come to know and love, as well as a song that reveals Mr. Beam stretching with ambition from his collaboration with Calexico.