Thursday, October 1, 2009

She'll Kiss You Like a King and You'll Love It.

A Fine Frenzy: Bomb In a Birdcage
[Virgin Records]

That song says pretty much everything I'd need to say about A Fine Frenzy's (singer/songwriter/pianist Alison Sudol) second release, Bomb In a Birdcage. It's whimsical and terribly sweet, extraordinarily catchy and perfectly executed. I don't generally like to describe music as "cute," but holy crap is that song adorable. I'd like to pick it up and squeeze it lovingly; quite simply, it makes me smile (and press repeat).

Being that it's kinda what we do around here, though, I'll expand a bit. Bomb In a Birdcage is an engaging record from a talented performer and songwriter, equal parts elegant and playful, delicate and confident. Sudol deftly navigates through upbeat, bouncy tunes and more subdued singer/songwriter fare, producing an album that often calms but never bores; her ability to put just the right notes at the forefront of relatively sparse music, coupled with excellent production, prevents even the quietest songs from losing the listener's attention.

Having achieved a fair degree of success with her debut record, A Fine Frenzy expands her musical palette a bit with Bomb In a Birdcage, blending some slightly more daring pop numbers in with her flowing style and showing more power in her vocals. "What I Wouldn't Do," the single "Blow Away" and especially "Electric Twist" really get the first third of the album moving before Sudol settles into a more level feel for a few songs. "Electric Twist" is a true highlight here; beginning with just a bass, a couple low guitar strings and a voice, it slowly adds layers of keyboards and effects, building steam as the riffs meld and the vocals project. Sudol punctuates a number of lines with quick, high-pitched squeaks that might seem obnoxious in description but are totally endearing aurally--sweet and playful and happy. It's these little touches in delivery--like the breath at the 2:04 mark--that make A Fine Frenzy irresistible.

The middle section of Bomb In a Birdcage rolls along a bit more calmly, relying on Sudol's beautifully full piano to carry the elegant melodies, interspersed with bursts of horns and keyboards to keep things interesting. Still, these four or five songs drift along like a lazy river, comfortable and lovely and inviting. "Stood Up" is a bit of a deviation from the rest of the record, albeit an alluring one; its vocals are heavy on reverb and echo, and the song includes a piece where the vocals are backed only by a thumping drumbeat, giving it almost an anthemic feel. This track also includes some of the most powerful vocals on the record, and is rather stirring for an artist like A Fine Frenzy. The album closes out with the pretty "The Beacon;" that is, unless you get the iTunes version--and I recommend that you do--which closes more appropriately with "Coming Around." While it is rather pretty, "The Beacon" ends a bit anticlimactically; "Coming Around" is a more satisfying final track, upbeat and full of lush horns and background vocals.

Overall, Bomb In a Birdcage is an excellent entry into the ever-expanding female singer/songwriter genre. It's a cohesive record despite being quite a bit more dynamic than A Fine Frenzy's debut, and the lyrical content is intelligent, fanciful and literary without being too artsy or inaccessible. It may not draw in those who aren't predisposed to her kind of music, but for those with an ear for the mellow and melodic, Alison Sudol is definitely someone you should meet.


Spender said...

I am quite enamored of the many fine female singer/songwriters who have begun making their marks on the music scene and this cd is a fine addition to the genre.
It's very nice to see more women being recognized.

Jeni said...

Oh, I could not be more excited. I liked the first album, altough sometimes it's a bit slow for my mood. I saw her open for Brandi Carlile and she was great.

Sean said...

Jeni, I agree regarding One Cell in the Sea; it's lovely, but sometimes just a bit too subdued. This one gets things moving a bit more. I've been hoping that she'll do a show somewhere near my neck of the backwoods, but sadly, she doesn't have any planned. Shit, I'd settle for almost any city in Ohio at this point.

And Doc: amen, brother.