Sunday, December 23, 2012

My year in music 2012

Fiona Apple:  musical artist of the year
My favorite albums of 2012:

#1.  Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel . . .
#2.  Jack White, Blunderbuss

Others I've enjoyed:

Band of Horses, Mirage Rock
Sara Bareilles, Once Upon Another Time EP
Dave Matthews Band, Away from the World
Brandi Carlile, Bear Creek  (This is her most flawed album to date, however.)
Shake The Baron, Ghost Hits
Tori Amos, Gold Dust
Whispertown, Parallel EP

Then there are a bunch I need to hurry up and listen to in their entirety, such as releases from Bat For Lashes, David Byrne & St. Vincent, Bob Dylan, Benjamin Gibbard, Beth Orton, Amy Ray, and The Wallflowers.

My concert attendance:

Apr. 21st: Death Cab For Cutie with Magik*Magik Orchestra, Wang Theatre, Boston, MA
June 22nd:  Shawn Colvin, Ridgefield Playhouse, Ridgefield, CT
Conor Oberst in Boston, 12-6
June 29th:  Fiona Apple, Ives Concert Park, Danbury, CT
July 7th:  Shake The Baron, Great Scott, Boston, MA
July 27th:  Iron & Wine, Calvin Theatre, Northampton, MA
July 31st:  Wilco, Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA
Aug. 1st:  Wilco, Mortensen Hall at The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
Aug. 4th:  Brandi Carlile, Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, MA
Sept. 8th:  Shake The Baron, I AM Festival, New London, CT
Sept. 13th: Bon Iver, Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, MA
Sept. 28th:  Jack White, Agganis Arena, Boston, MA
Sept. 29th:  The Wallflowers, Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA
Dec. 6th:  Conor Oberst, Orpheum Theater, Boston, MA
Dec. 9th:  Band of Horses, House of Blues, Boston, MA

Monday, December 17, 2012

On the Sandy Hook tragedy

I currently reside and work in close geographic proximity to Newtown.  The mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School stunned my coworkers and me last Friday as we hoped for minimal damage but instead heard that twenty-six had died.

I find "Oh Very Young" by Cat Stevens to be a fitting tribute to the twenty children, all six and seven years old, who lost their lives.

Oh very young, what will you leave us this time
You're only dancin' on this earth for a short while
And though your dreams may toss and turn you now
They will vanish away like your dad's best jeans
Denim blue, faded up to the sky
And though you want them to last forever
You know they never will
(you know they never will)
And the patches make the goodbye harder still.

Oh very young, what will you leave us this time
There'll never be a better chance to change your mind
And if you want this world to see a better day
Will you carry the words of love with you
Will you ride the great white bird into heaven
And though you want to last forever
You know you never will
(you know you never will)
And the goodbye makes the journey harder still.

Will you carry the words of love with you
Will you ride, oh, ooh

Oh very young, what will you leave us this time
You're only dancin' on this earth for a short while
Oh very young, what will you leave us this time

"Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.'" --The Bible, Mark 10:15.

For the teachers who protected the children in their care:  "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." --The Bible, John 15:13.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Civil Wars is an awesome duo

It often takes me awhile to get into musical artists.  I first heard The Civil Wars on the last Grammy Awards (which I watched very sporadically) when the pair performed briefly before introducing Taylor Swift.  (They won two Grammys:  Best Folk Album and Best Country Duo/Group Performance.  I would describe their music as Americana--not fitting neatly into either of the narrower classifications of folk or country.)  I kept them in mind as performers in whom I might be interested, and eventually got their 2011 CD through the library system.  Barton Hollow is a great album.

Joy Williams and John Paul White met during a songwriting session in Nashville, TN in 2008.  Their vocal harmonies are great as is the male-female dynamic. White plays the guitar and Williams the piano (the guitar is a constant, the piano brought out more selectively).

"Poison and Wine" is the album's standout track.  It is about the love-hate duality in a relationship, with its oft-repeated line, "I don't love you but I always will." "I've Got This Friend" is another highlight, a song that is playful and touching at the same time. "The Violet Hour" is a hauntingly beautiful instrumental piece with guitar, piano, and strings.  By far the most upbeat song, title track and single "Barton Hollow," is strategically placed in the middle of the album's tracklisting.

A week ago, the duo announced the cancellation of their upcoming tour dates, citing "internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition."  Williams is a new mom and perhaps that has something to do with the tour being halted.  But she and White don't appear to be breaking up:  "Our sincere hope is to have new music for you in 2013."

Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 15, 2012

Twenty years since Little Earthquakes

It has been twenty years since Tori Amos released her breakthrough album Little Earthquakes, becoming known as the fiery redhead at the piano.  To mark the occasion, she produced Gold Dust, a collaboration with the Metropole Orchestra of fourteen songs spanning her career with orchestral arrangements.  The orchestra is conducted by Jules Buckley and Tori's long-time collaborator John Philip Shenale gave the songs new string arrangements.

The arrangement improves upon opening track "Flavor" with a richer sound than the original.  The arrangement of "Precious Things" misses the mark, however.  One of Tori's best loved songs, "Cloud On My Tongue," gets wonderful treatment with the orchestra and is very moving.  It is the highlight of the album for me.  I'm glad "Marianne" is included, as it is one of my all-time favorites.  "Silent All These Years" is a natural choice for the album.  "Jackie's Strength" is the only song representing From The Choirgirl Hotel--unfortunately, as I can't stand that song!  "Programmable Soda" (from American Doll Posse) is a curious addition, as it is a bit of a throwaway, brief song.  "Yes, Anastasia" lacks the lengthy piano introduction of the original.  B-sides are represented with "Flying Dutchman" and "Snow Cherries From France."

Of the process of choosing which songs to include, Tori says in an interview with Rolling Stone, "I thought, 'We have to retain the essence of who these song-girls are.'  But yet, we have to also think about how to create a narrative where they can live together.  A lot of this was about picking songs that had different subject matter but could live in the world and feel as though they're a complete album."  Of the title track (a solid choice, from Scarlet's Walk), she explains, "I felt I needed something that could work as an album title and a flagship song that would explain what the work is, to hold all the other ones and to treat this like a memory box."

This release allows me to reflect on all of Tori's output, which is staggering in volume.  Says Tori in The Observer, "Making thirteen albums in the past twenty years requires a particular discipline.  There's a time to take a holiday and a time to take a pilgrimage and write."

I started listening to Tori's music when I was thirteen, around the time of the release of Boys for Pele.  Of course at that age there was a lot that Tori was singing about that was over my head but I knew I liked her music.  I was somewhat baffled by Pele for awhile; until the release of my all-time favorite Tori album--From the Choirgirl Hotel--when I was sixteen, I listened the most to Under the Pink.

Tori is very aware of the independent lives of her songs; it's like Jeff Tweedy sings in Wilco's "What Light":  "If the whole world's singing your songs/And all your paintings have been hung/Just remember what was yours is everyone's from now on."  From the Choirgirl Hotel helped me through one of the most difficult years of my life, and I am grateful to Tori for that.  As songs do, certain ones transport me back to a particular time and place, a particular frame of mind.

Songs can also take on new significance as time passes, which Tori acknowledges with Gold Dust, describing it as "a collection of new recordings of where [the songs] are now and who they have become."  She has long held Meet and Greets before her performances as her schedule allows, and listens to her fans' stories of how her songs have affected them.  She has spoken about how this dialogue is important to her and how she knows people come to her shows because of their own relationships with the songs.  She even speaks about her songs as though they were living, breathing beings.  Repeatedly described as kooky as she rose to popularity in the '90s, she is a true artist who trusts in her muses (whom she thanks in the liner notes of Gold Dust).

Tori & me at a Meet and Greet in Buffalo, NY, Oct. 2007
After 2001's Strange Little Girls, an album of covers, I took a break from following her for awhile, eventually picking up Scarlet's Walk and her compilation album Tales of a Librarian and delving back in.  Rolling Stone ranked Tori in the top five best live performers of all time, and I have had the pleasure of seeing her in concert eight times so far--in 1998 (I am so glad to have caught a date on the Plugged tour!), 2005, and then twice each of the following tours:  2007, 2009, and 2011.

I have not rated any of Tori's albums fewer than three stars (even Strange Little Girls, The Beekeeper, and American Doll Posse).  Every release has at least a few gems.  Many Tori fans would agree that output post-To Venus and Back or post-Scarlet's Walk doesn't usually measure up to her earlier work, but she continues to be incredibly creative.  Night of Hunters, in particular, was impressive.  Tori has not ceased to be innovative.

Gold Dust rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review: Dave Matthews Band, Away From the World

Three years in the making, Dave Matthews Band's Away From the World is produced by Steve Lillywhite, who produced the band's first three studio albums.  The lineup of the band has undergone changes but has remained strong.  Tim Reynolds contributes to the album on electric guitar. Replacing saxophonist LeRoi Moore, who died in 2008, are trumpeter Rashawn Ross and saxophonist Jeff Coffin.  The album is musically solid, balancing between rocking and acoustic tracks and creating a more favorable impression overall than their previous album.

The album's lyrics include themes of love, being yourself, and making a difference in the world, and can be on the cheesy side.  I always think of Dave Matthews Band as being more about the music than the words, with the occasional song that really gets it right lyrically, so this is par for the course.  For example, the lyrics to "Gaucho" mostly consist of:  "Gotta do much more than believe/If we wanna see the world change."  This seems to be an overplayed sentiment in songs.

"Sweet" is my favorite song on the album.  Dave plays a ukelele and sings poignantly high notes.  "The Riff" follows, with some good lyrics, including, "Why waste time staring at the TV set/Like I got dreams to kill and people to forget."  The song closes with a blistering guitar solo by Tim Reynolds.  Another standout is "Drunken Soldier," a satisfying album closer at almost ten minutes long.  Dave sings, "Fill up your head and fill up your heart and take your shot/Don't waste time trying to be something you're not."

Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review of Close to Shore

I read Close to Shore:  The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916, by Michael Capuzzo to gear up for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Shark Week that aired on the Discovery Channel last week.  An approximately eight-foot-long juvenile Great White shark, the author says, terrorized the New Jersey and Long Island coastal areas during the summer of 1916, killing four people and wounding one.  Incredibly, it even made its way--and survived--from the ocean to a creek.  This summer of localized attacks by an apparently lone shark inspired Peter Benchley to write the book Jaws--which Stephen Spielberg then made into the summer blockbuster movie of 1975.

Before 1916, the prevailing opinion in the United States was that sharks would not attack a living person in the country's temperate waters without provocation.  After the attacks, leading authorities admitted that their perceptions about sharks had changed.

The book's strength actually lies largely in describing the historical setting and certain cultural changes that were occurring during this period.  Ocean swimming was just becoming popular and New Jersey resorts were sought-after by the leisure class.  Capuzzo also does a good job of noting some interesting facts about sharks and the history of our perception and study of these animals.  The author takes his time with all of this context before getting into the attacks.

There are a couple of loose ends the author does not tie up.  Was the shark that killed those people during the summer of 1916 ever captured?  The author leaves this question unanswered, although it seems likely that the shark was caught.

Capuzzo seems to subscribe to the theory of a rogue shark--one that strays from its usual food source and hunts humans because of illness, injury, or some other factor that makes it difficult for it to get its usual prey.  Yet at the end of the book he talks about how the theory of rogue sharks has fallen out of favor in recent years.  Throughout the book, however, he never offers as a possibility that multiple sharks could have been involved.  Why does he subscribe to the rogue shark theory in this case?  His argument would have been more convincing if he had offered definitive evidence to support his point of view.

Despite these points left up in the air, the book offers a lot to make it a good read:  a thrilling story reconstructed from true events, some colorful characters, fascinating information about sharks, and thought-provoking reflections about changes in American culture.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review of Escape from Camp 14

Escape from Camp 14:  One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-Hyuk's harrowing life within a North Korean prison.  He is the only person known to have been born and raised in a North Korean prison camp to have escaped.  He was born in Camp 14 in 1982 and made his way to South Korea in 2006.  He moved to the U.S. in 2009 and lives in Washington, D.C. and Seoul.  Between 150,000 and 200,000 North Koreans work as slaves in its political prison camps.

Shin grew up in a prison camp because of the crime of a relative who fled to South Korea after the Korean War.  Shin's life inside the camp included seeing his mother as a competitor for food, being groomed by guards to snitch on anyone including and especially his family, and witnessing the execution of his mother and brother.

This is not only the story of Shin's experience in and escape from Camp 14 but is also a story of aftershocks--where does a physically and emotionally scarred individual who has endured real-life dystopian horrors go from there?  He explains, "I am evolving from being an animal, but it is going very, very slowly.  Sometime I try to cry and laugh like other people, just to see if it feels like anything.  Yet tears don't come.  Laughter doesn't come."

For a glimpse into the situation in North Korea from those living it, I also recommend Nothing to Envy:  Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick.  I haven't yet read but am interested in reading The Aquariums of Pyongyang:  Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, by Kang Chol-Hwan and Pierre Riguelot.  Escape from Camp 14 offers an often hard to take but important inside view of the country's human rights catastrophe.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fiona Apple's amazing new album

The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is Fiona Apple's fourth album and first in seven years.  It is a collaboration between Fiona and percussionist Charley Drayton; they coproduced it and played most of the instruments.  This is a raw and pared down album that is certainly a departure from her preceding album Extraordinary Machine.  It seems to have the most in common with her sophomore effort When the Pawn.  The instrumentation is largely piano and percussion.

There are some interesting sounds in some of the songs.  She explains about the song "Jonathan":  "On the first night of recording with Charley, we walked by this bottle-making factory.  The door was open and you could hear a machine running.  We both had our recorders with us and we agreed that the sound would be good for the song."  On "Anything We Want," she achieved a sound effect "with a pair of scissors, a tin full of burnt-cedar sashays, and a plastic cup.  I was hitting everything with scissors and the cedar was flying all over the place."  The song "Werewolf" includes a screaming sound that she was inspired to include after hearing a battle scene in a movie; she worked to find a duplication of it and finally found it in screams from a group of children at a school across from her house:  "They were jumping with balloons between their legs, trying to make them pop.  In the actual song, we had to take out all the balloon pops because they sounded like gunshots.  But it was so perfect."

There is not a weak song on the album--all are strong musically and lyrically.  In "Every Single Night," she sings, "Every single night's a fight/With my brain" and then later, "I just want to feel everything."  And from "Werewolf":  "We can still support each other/All we have to do's avoid each other/Nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key."  "Hot Knife" is the closing track, blending her and her sister's voices (they stood at the same microphone):  "If I'm butter then he's a hot knife/He makes my life a CinemaScope screen showing a dancing bird of paradise."

My choral director in high school said that if an audience member described a performance as "ambitious," that meant that there was a high standard that was reached for and inevitably (and embarrassingly) not achieved.  This is one album that can be called ambitious and actually live up to it.

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Monday, June 25, 2012

Review of Please Look After Mom

Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin (translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim) is an international bestseller and winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize.  It is a moving novel told from the points of view of a daughter, son, father, and mother.  The mother, sixty-nine-year-old So-Nyo, goes missing from a Seoul train station on her way to visit her children and her family launches a search to find her.  Her children reminisce about growing up poor in the countryside and wrestle with guilt for not taking better care of her, their father feels sorry for neglecting her, and secrets are revealed.

The author explains her choice to tell the story through four narrators:  "I wanted to show a 'Mom' who was a complex and profound human being.  As it was impossible to do this in a single person's voice, I needed multiple narrators.  In the novel, the voices of the daughter, son, and father are narrated in the second person, 'you' and the third person, 'her.'  It's only the mother who uses the first person.  I had in mind the fact that, when a woman becomes a mother, she no longer gets to speak or sometimes even think in terms of that 'I.'  Of the four different voices in the book, the mother's is perhaps the most vivid and powerful.  When I was writing it, it felt as though my mother's hand had held--even gripped--my authorial hand, so that she could tell her own story."  The chapter in which the reader gets to finally hear from the mother herself, written in the first person, is indeed the most affecting.

Shin hopes readers take away from the book the realization of  "the plain truth that your mother was not born that way, that she too had to become a mother.  Taking the time to think about your mother might also mean taking the time to think about yourself."

The book sheds light on both bonds among family members and life in contemporary South Korea.  The shift from countryside to city life that So-Nyo's children take in relative stride is a different world to her and seems to add to the confusion she experiences as a result of her health problems.  The family members deal with her disappearance in their own ways.  Shin uncovers the complexity of individuals and of their familial relationships.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: Sara Bareilles, Once Upon Another Time EP

Two years after the release of her third and strongest full-length album, Kaleidoscope Heart, Sara Bareilles has come out with five-song EP Once Upon Another Time.  It was produced by her friend Ben Folds.  The first thing I noticed was that she has been working on her vocals, most evident on the first two tracks: more of a belting-it-out, R&B style.  She certainly has the vocal capacity to pull it off, but that's a direction I did not anticipate.

Of making an EP as her next move, Sara explains to American Songwriter, "I knew I wanted to take some time off between my records and I wanted my fans to have some new music to tide them over.  An EP is especially great because there's less pressure than with a record, so it's a good place to explore and play creatively without feeling like it will define my next career move."  She goes on to say that "I wouldn't say this EP has a very concrete thread running through it.  It's really about picking a collection of songs that I loved."

The title track, which is the opener, is largely a cappella.  Sara notes that it "is really about loss of your childhood and letting go of your past, and that's a part of my life right now, a journey I feel like I'm on.  It felt befitting to name the album that."  "Stay" also showcases her vocals.

"Lie to Me" is a lively track, both in in its instrumentation (including strings) and lyrics:  "Run your mouth/I bet I can catch it/You sound just like a Judas."  Sara says of the song, "I actually write kind of mean lyrics, but usually wrapped up in a sunny song.  For awhile I was having fun with that juxtaposition, but 'Lie to Me' is a bit more direct.  It sounds like what it means.  It's experimentation, finding new ways to express what I was trying to say."

"Sweet As Whole" unleashes her cheeky, foul-mouthed side.  It recalls Cee Lo Green's "F*** You," which Sara loves and sings on tour:  "I wish I wrote that song.  I just think it's so ballsy, and brash, and I absolutely love it.  It's awesome."

"Bright Lights and Cityscapes" is a ballad that is right on par with her best ones such as "City" and "Gravity."  She describes it as "a very emotional performance.  When I listen back to that vocal take, I don't hear my best singing and I get self-conscious about that.  But Ben was adamant about getting a take that had a lot of emotion, and he was right:  I was sitting in the piano room crying while singing, and he's the one who made me keep that on the record."  That was a good move, because this is the Sara that resonates most with me and likely many others as well.

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Nuggets from the CLA conference

I attended the Connecticut Library Association conference for the first time on May 7th and 8th.  It was held in Groton.  In the past I've been to conferences for the New Hampshire and Massachusetts Library Associations.  Nuggets:

With the right leadership and creativity, your program attendance can increase substantially, even in the face of cut funding.

Holding programs in a series is a good way to generate excitement.

Incorporate programs that bring in a harder-to-reach demographic:  gardening and fishing programs can draw middle-aged men, and a program on how to win at blackjack can reach a younger male demographic.

Evaluation and assessment are buzzwords relating to both programming (things that may have worked in the past may not be working anymore) and interlibrary loan (how much is happening in this area?).

The Rethinking Resource Sharing Initiative is independent of the American Library Association's RUSA-STARS, the interlibrary loan subgroup.  The Initiative has developed a useful checklist of best practices in interlibrary loan.

Everyday leadership means putting yourself in challenging situations; gaining fellowship (one's title is not enough); and is a conscious action.  It also connotes conducting daily interactions with consistency and integrity.

Start asking questions like the head of an organization.  Be a generalist; know it all.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Jack White, Blunderbuss

Jack White's first solo album comes a little over a year after the announced breakup of The White Stripes, his best known band.  He subsequently cut two albums apiece with very different projects The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather.  It was expected that White would strike out on his own, but he was reluctant to do so.  In fact, Blunderbuss came into being rather accidentally after RZA (of the Wu-Tang Clan) didn't show up for a studio session and White used the time to develop his own material.  Blunderbuss hit the Billboard charts at #1, a first for White.

The best track may be "Hypocritical Kiss," with rollicking piano and lyrics like "I want names of the people that we know that are falling for this" and "You would sell your own mother out/And then betray your dead brother with another hypocritical kiss."  The album includes one cover, a Little Willie John song, "I'm Shakin'," with a spirited chorus of female backup singers.

Blunderbuss channels the sound of The White Stripes more than that of his other groups.  A likely reason is that The White Stripes was more his brainchild than either of the other, more populous bands were.  Still, the sound of Blunderbuss is more rock and roll and less garage band than the music of The White Stripes.

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 23, 2012

Levon Helm, 1940-2012

Levon Helm, drummer and singer for The Band, passed away last Thursday.  He had battled throat cancer for years, but I was surprised to read a statement from his family on Wednesday that he was fading, given the fact that he had been playing shows relatively recently. 

In an otherwise Canadian group, Helm was an Arkansas native and lent an authentic tone to The Band's Americana songs, such as "Up On Cripple Creek," "The Weight," "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," and "Ophelia."  He had long resented guitarist-songwriter Robbie Robertson, believing that Robertson received a disproportionate amount of royalties.  Helm also disliked the Scorcese-directed concert film The Last Waltz because he thought it glorified Robertson over the other members of the group.

After thirty years of acrimony, the two reconciled when Robertson visited Helm in the hospital.  "I am so grateful I got to see him one last time," said Robertson, "and will miss him and love him forever."  Garth Hudson, the other surviving member of The Band, expressed sadness as well.

In recent years, Helm had hosted a weekly concert series, "The Midnight Rambles," at his home, which led to the production of two acclaimed albums, Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt.  The live album Ramble at the Ryman was also well received.

 "If it doesn't come from your heart, music just doesn't work." --Levon Helm.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library & Archives officially opens

Happy National Library Week!  It is also induction week at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which started it off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Library and Archives (two years in the making and open to the public since January).  The opening ceremony included a forum featuring a panel of music historians talking about things they had discovered in the collection.  The new four-story building is located on the Metro Campus of Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, about two miles from the Museum. 

The library's mission includes the following assertion:  "We believe the Library and Archives will help to take the Museum to a new level of visibility and recognition as a world-class cultural institution, connecting further with the scholarly community while at the same time serving the information needs of all music fans."  Sounds good.  From what I can tell from looking at the library's catalog, the library does not have a circulating collection.  Following criticism from the public that the library is only open 9-5 Monday through Friday, director Andy Leach said they are looking at opening an evening or a Saturday.

I remember seeing the job posting for a public services librarian at the Library and Archives awhile back and thinking that would be a fun job.  Most of the staff there have degrees related to music as well as library science.

I like the archives' inclusions of a Wilco collection, Led Zeppelin concert handbills, and Jimi Hendrix's original, handwritten lyrics to "Purple Haze" on "crumpled, yellow note paper."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: Whispertown, Parallel

Whispertown's Parallel is a solid new EP from Morgan Nagler and company, following '08 album Swim under the name The Whispertown 2000.  Parallel sees a shift from somewhat spare, raw instrumentation and a folk-pop sound into more electronica territory at times.  Nagler's voice, with a touch of whine, and what Paste writer M.T. Richards describes as a "hungover" quality, may be an acquired taste and shapes the tone of the songs.

The title track is the strongest, telling of two people who would seem to be on deceptively different wavelengths.  "It's easy to tell that we are parallel," Nagler sings.  "You are far away even if you stay there" and "Marching side by side/Even deaf and blind."

In another standout track, "Open the Other Eye," she addresses someone contemplating giving up on life:  "If you don't want to wake up/I recommend a deep sleep/Uninterrupted, it's a balance beam." She encourages deeper insight in saying, "Open the other eye" (Third Eye?).

"The Fall" talks about needing to open up and participate fully in life.  With the exception of one cringeworthy tearing-down-the-Great-Wall reference, the song has lyrics that resonate:  "I was meant to be the wall coming down/I was meant to be the fall" and "I'd trade it all in for . . . the comfort of an old friend."

The EP stumbles a bit with "Blood from Wine," a jangly duet that seems out of place on this seven-song collection.  But, overall, Parallel is cohesive, displaying both a healthy dose of musical evolution and a satisfying continuity with previous efforts.

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars.