Monday, August 26, 2013
Running Ahead: Sara Bareilles and 'The Blessed Unrest'
In a new attempt to review albums sooner after their release, this week I'm reviewing Sara Bareilles' third album, The Blessed Unrest. July is still last month, right? The album title comes from a quote by Martha Graham, the great American dance pioneer, and is really about moving on and continuing to change, instead of giving into routine and stagnation. Graham, who invented a whole new style and method of dance, really exemplifies this. Bareilles explores the theme throughout the record, both in lyrical content and musical direction.
The album has a surprising range of emotions, from the attempting cheerfulness of "Little Black Dress" to the longing of "Cassiopeia" to the emotional solidness of "Brave" to the unrepentant but mature love song "I Choose You." The emotions are more on the surface than in her second album, the mostly forgettable Kaleidoscope Heart. Perhaps The Blessed Unrest features a bit too many slow tracks, but even in those, Bareilles's story-telling singing keeps me interested. The varied musical textures are also a leap in a new direction. Partly, Bareilles's channeling some Sara McLachlin with her vocal and instrumental production, especially in "Satellite Call," but mostly it's just exciting and new. Bareilles's piano is still present, but is mostly backgrounded, a far cry from the piano prominence of Little Voice.
Besides the now-ubiquitous anthem "Brave," I think "Hercules" is really the most exiting track. I'll use it as an example of what I think works in the rest of album: varied texture, continuity, and added musical meaning. She starts the track with some solid, open-fifth chords that are about as prominent as her piano playing gets this album, but strangely sparse enough to prompt questions. Bareilles's smooth voice then appears on top, with inspired string writing that mirrors the voice. Then, just before the verse ends, the beat drops away and we get a moment of calm decorated by a delicate rolled piano chord. I always get a rush when the chorus hits after that calm, with the additional movement in the strings and the high vocal backup. Throughout the song, the words and emphasis are crystal clear and never overstated. The bridge really brings something new to the song, but we also finally get an expansion of the calm music from before the first chorus. When the solid, open-fifth chords return in the final moments of the track, I realize that while this sound also began the track, I haven't heard it in a couple of minutes. And it prompts me again, what does this sound mean? Its solidness probably hints at a strong warrior (as in the title), but its disappearance may hint at something deliciously more complex, such as hinting that the wisher/singer might not get their wish. Also, "Hercules" is a great song for jogging.
I think The Blessed Unrest is really a terrific album, and shows that Bareilles can keep reinventing her music, as the title suggests. I do, however, miss the unabashed, energy filled piano playing from "Love Song" and "King of Anything." In the future, I hope we hear a lot more of that combined with the creativity on display in this album.
What did you think of the album? Did you like Bareilles's new direction?
By the way, I listen to more new music than I have time to review in depth, so I've started doing #TweetReviews @signifyingsound, as you can see from the new tweet widget on your left. I'm a bit conflicted over reviewing 30-60 minutes of music in only 140 characters, as I basically have to leave nuance at the door, but I've decided a one-line review is better than nothing.
Vocab: open fifth, texture, bridge