Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: Sara Bareilles, The Blessed Unrest

Sara Bareilles' new album, The Blessed Unrest, is influenced by her move from Los Angeles to New York.  She says that New York had always felt too overwhelming to her but that it now seems like an environment that she needed after all.  The idea of challenging oneself is probably the most important theme of the album.

The first track and single "Brave" is very poppy.  I wish Sara would do fewer poppy songs because she's a talented songwriter with great vocal facility and where she really shines has been with her ballads.  I am not suggesting that she should only do ballads, but for her more upbeat songs I wish she would get away from that kind of predictable, poppy sound.

"Hercules" is one of the best tracks--if not the best, and has piano chords reminiscent of those in Tori Amos' "Take to the Sky."  The theme of the song is about summoning extra strength.  Sara sings, "I'm on the hunt for who I've not yet become/But I'd settle for a little equilibrium."  I totally know what she means in terms of  earnestly pursuing your more evolved self but that in the meantime, why do you feel unsure and off balance?  She sings, "I have sent for a warrior/From on my knees, make me a Hercules/I was meant to be a warrior please/Make me a Hercules."  The theme of this song ties in nicely with that of "Brave."  "Hercules" hits the mark both sonically and lyrically.

"Manhattan" is a quiet ballad, piano and some horns.  Sara sings, "You can have Manhattan" and "Hang on to the reverie/Could you do that for me?/'Cause I'm just too sad to."  She realizes the good times spent there as a couple but can't quite bear to own them herself.  "1000 Times" is like "Hold My Heart" Part Two, a ballad with a plodding drumbeat and other instrumentation in addition to the piano:  since that was my favorite song off Sara's 2010 LP Kaleidoscope Heart, I promptly sent "1000 Times" into heavy replay.  "Satellite Call" bears some similarity to those songs but has more interesting things going on, particularly with her vocals.  The experimentation of this song is more what I think she should do than with "Eden" or "Cassiopeia," which I don't dislike but which both miss the mark a little bit.

Theme-wise, in addition to that of making courageous strides in life, there is one straight up love song, "I Choose You," and a few of the songs are about breakups or problems in romantic relationships (as were multiple songs on Kaleidoscope Heart).  Sara mostly plays to her strengths and this is a satisfying album.

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 1, 2013


I've been a Beck fan for many years, and was excited to find out he was planning some tour dates this summer.  In fact, he just performed in Wantagh, NY in a one-off Americanarama appearance.  He even performed his '93 hit single "Loser" with Wilco!  I thought he refused to play that live.

He clearly has widely varying musical influences, which is part of what makes his music so interesting.  He's also responsible for such unique lyrics as, "Egos drone/and pose alone" (from "Bottle of Blues"); "These withered hands/Have dug for a dream/Sifted through sand and leftover nightmares" (from "We Live Again"); and "I've been drifting on this wave so long/I don't know if it's already crashed on the shore" (from "Volcano").

Beck has not one but two brand new albums in store soon, the first one acoustic and the other described as the proper follow-up to his last studio album, 2008's Modern Guilt.  He will release these albums independently, and this summer he put out two standalone singles, "Defriended" and "I Won't Be Long."  His previous project, Beck Hansen's Song Reader, was entirely sheet music-based--innovative, but I didn't learn the songs myself!  He performed the songs from it in a London concert on July 4th with various guests such as Franz Ferdinand and Beth Orton.

Tomorrow, Beck plays at the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston--a venue I've frequented for quite a few summers now, an open-air, large-but-not-too-large-seeming place near the water.  I was curious what to expect so I looked online and found that while Beck's shows so far this summer have been acoustic, we should expect an electric, full-band show in Boston (as well as in Brooklyn two days later).