Elizabeth & the Catapult: The Other Side of Zero


RIYL: Aimee Mann, KT Tunstall, Diane Birch

Elizabeth Ziman spent a few years demo-ing and ultimately recording and releasing her debut under Elizabeth & the Catapult, Taller Children. But the follow-up took practically no time at all, and apparently flowed out of Ziman the way great writers often have waves of new material emanating from themselves. So here was Ziman, influenced all at once by Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing, and letting the music that would become her new album, The Other Side of Zero flow from her. Ziman’s a dead ringer for Aimee Mann vocally, but musically her stuff is darker and deeper. And oh yeah, it’s really, really good.

The Other Side of Zero begins with the piano romp, “We All Fall Down” and has other quirky yet instantly catchy tracks like “You & Me” and “The Horse & the Missing Cart.” There are songs that will remind you of Taller Children – witness the alternative love song “Julian, Darling” or the electronica-driven “Dreamcatcher.” But while Ziman and drummer Danny Molad make awesome music together, the one track on here that uses drums sparsely but may not need to is “Open Book.” This is one of those songs that is rife with simple beauty, one you hear and want to keep hitting “repeat,” and that has movie soundtrack written all over it. Best of all, as with all of Ziman’s work, there are elements of alternative, jazz, and pop – all with a rainy day feel running throughout, just the way she likes it. (Verve Forecast 2010)

Elizabeth & the Catapult website

  

Ruth Gerson: This Can’t Be My Life


RIYL: Aimee Mann, Heather Nova, Fiona Apple

As if there needed to be proof out there that trying times can lead to the most inspired music, singer/songwriter Ruth Gerson hammers that point home again on her latest, This Can’t Be My Life. The album was recorded and ready for release in 2007, but a divorce and sudden single-momhood put the project on the shelf for a few years. Lucky for us, Gerson finally did release it, and the painful time period she endured shines through loud and clear on This Can’t Be My Life, her first full-length effort since 1998. Gerson writes music with heart, and delivers it with equal parts bluesy brood and rocking growl. It’s also melodic enough to be accessible to the masses, but still unique and cool enough to be considered alternative. Right from the title track, a piano anthem that sets the tone for the rest of the set, Gerson tells her story with simple yet powerful lyrics: “I made two lefts / I shoulda gone right / If I made one more left, it would have been right / It can’t be, can’t be my life.” This and the singsong “Bulletproof” have a falsetto melodic bent a la Aimee Mann, while “Fresh Air” and “Someday Soon” have a dark yet powerful pull akin to Fiona Apple. Add the jazzy, rainy day feel of “Hazel” and the guitar-picking “Take It Slow,” which will remind you of a female Nick Drake, and you’ve got a very complete, damn good album here. Whether Ruth Gerson breaks out big or remains on a smaller radar plane doesn’t matter. What matters is that she’s shared her stories with us, and is doing what she does best – making great music. (Wrong Records 2009)

Ruth Gerson website

  

Rogue Wave: Permalight


RIYL: Nada Surf, Death Cab For Cutie, The Shins

Fans of alternative pop/rock band Rogue Wave know that their music can be somewhat of an acquired taste, just like the Shins or Death Cab for Cutie. But therein lies a big reason for their success. The music won’t instantly grow on you nor make you instantly tired of it. Instead, Zach Rogue (who has a soft tenor a la Josh Rouse) and his band mates make the kind of music that should have staying power on your master play list. Rogue Wave’s latest, Permalight, is a departure from previous work, though it’s not exactly easy to pinpoint just why. Maybe it’s because Rogue suffered a couple of slipped discs in his neck in late 2008, which rendered him unable to move and scared him into believing he had a life-threatening illness. Eventually the swelling went down, and he regained enough feeling in his hand to be able to play the guitar. Many of the songs on Permalight are noticeably bouncier and happier than what one would expect from Rogue Wave, but the quality of songwriting is definitely still there.

Rogue_Wave_01

If you like upbeat alt-pop, you’ll find the jangly “Solitary Gun” or “Stars and Stripes” to your liking. But if you favor the darker side of what made you love Rogue Wave, “Sleepwalker” or the acoustic driven “Fear Itself” will suit you more. Then there is the total oddity of the title track or the robotic “We Will Make a Song Destroy,” which shows Rogue Wave becoming more experimental. One thing is for sure, though; many of us are glad that Rogue is okay and that Rogue Wave is still making music. (Brushfire/Universal 2010)

Rogue Wave MySpace page

  

Lifehouse: Smoke & Mirrors


RIYL: Goo Goo Dolls, The Fray, Matchbox Twenty

When Lifehouse released their edgy debut No Name Face in 2000, their music was leaning more toward alternative and cool – because of the songs and the way they recorded them, but also because of how radio, to some degree, still drove record sales. But as bands like Lifehouse, Matchbox Twenty, and Third Eye Blind keep aging, their music tends to organically soften. And as it does, they start to mesh on radio with artists such as, say, Edwin McCain or Huey Lewis. And while we all do age, there is something inherently disappointing in watching a band like Lifehouse start to listen too much to producers and radio programmers instead of making the cool music that they used to. Still, these guys can write hit songs in their sleep, and on Smoke & Mirrors, their fifth studio effort, Lifehouse has delivered yet another batch of ear candy that will have little girls swooning. For the rest of us, it’s a nice album, but nothing we haven’t heard before, from Lifehouse or any other bands in their alt/pop genre.

Songs like the upbeat “All In” and “Had Enough” are formulaic, but there are also some nice surprises. The first one is “Nerve Damage,” which is an edgy rocker that even has a bluesy guitar solo that is (gasp) almost 30 seconds long. Then there’s the best track of all, “From Where You Are,” a stunning acoustic ballad that shows singer Jason Wade hasn’t lost a single strand of vocal cord over the past decade. Someday Lifehouse may go back to having creative control. But even so, their music doesn’t exactly suck, and you can’t blame them for chasing a big paycheck. (Geffen 2010)

Lifehouse MySpace page

  

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