Monday, April 4, 2011
Laura Jansen - Bells
I’m a sucker for a good female singer-songwriter, I’ll admit. It probably has something to do with being yet another year older and in my seemingly permanent state of singleness. So I was ready to give Laura Jansen a shot when she’s suggested with the likes of Ingrid Michaelson and Regina Spektor. But then I considered “perhaps there just isn’t anymore room in my heart for another feminine voice singing heartwrenchingly accurate songs of longing and heartache.” Laura Jansen gave me hope that perhaps there really is room left in my heart, but also made me think, perhaps she is not meant to occupy that remaining space.
When I think about picking this album up again and giving it a listen, I grow weary. It feels like work. But when I do finally give it a chance, I’m always pleasantly surprised. It’s like those family reunions you dread going to because you have to talk to your older slightly pretentious cousin. And then you show up, because you have to and if you don’t your grandmother will tell you “when the family falls apart, it’s your fault.” And when you get there, you remember how surprisingly not pretentious your older cousin is; that actually he (or she) tells great stories and is great to drink with.
In a nod to something metaphysical, or perhaps just to let you in on what the tone of the album is going to be, the album starts off with a song called “The End” about the end of a relationship. The very first few piano chords, especially when the vocal comes in, sounds very much like a Keane cover – or like perhaps the band had some sort of operation since we’ve last heard from them.
In general the album is mostly piano heavy with some not-completely-offensive background tracks (drum machine, pseudo-Postal-Service synth effects, strings). The vocal harmonies are quite pleasant and the tunes are fine. The title track “Bells” seems to only recall bells with the piano notes, but doesn’t actually employ any real bells – I’m mixed about this choice.
The standout track is probably track 3 (as I’ve come to learn seems to be a trend), “Single Girls.” It’s an honest, vulnerable look at a girl’s life post-break-up. Simple, sweet and almost naïve; it’s really quite beautiful. And the album even includes a live performance sans background instruments/vocals. And gentle as that version is, I might like the studio better; the honesty seems almost forced in the live performance.
There’s a quirky tune in “Wicked World.” “Soljah” almost offends me with it’s semi-Reggae/semi-R&B sound. Jansen also does a risky thing and covers Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.” I don’t think the risk pays off.
It sounds like I really hate this album, which I don’t. It’s a little all over the place, stylistically and I just don’t see it as something original. There have been plenty of other female singer-songwriters before who have done it better. I’m not saying there’s no place for this album, but it’s not in my regularly circulating library. It just does nothing for me. Maybe a few more coffee shop shows and a few more character-building heartbreaks and she’ll really put out something stellar. Keep with it kid, if your heart’s in it; but maybe keep it to your intimate circle of people until you can bring someone else’s heart into it, too.