A long, long time ago, in a record store far, far away (well, fairly far away, you know, assuming you don’t own a car, and depending on traffic and weather conditions), people used to browse the shelves, seeking out their favourite artists. Times were simpler: people listened to LPs, wore tie-dyed shirts un-ironically, protested against the Vietnam War, and had no YouTube. Yeah, the ‘70s sucked, is what I’m saying. Aside from your friends introducing you to new records, you’d have no easy and cheap way of finding new music, aside from risking your money on that dodgy looking record in the corner (only to go home and find out that it was a compilation of love songs . . . from Tibet . . . that used only Tuvan throat singing).
The golden, gloriously goofy, gleeful, gargantuan, and grand community that is the Internet has changed all that. YouTube, SoundCloud, and a veritable plethora of music sharing sites (ranging from the good, the bad, to the slightly illegal) have allowed artists to reach more people than at any time in the past. You no longer have to brave the vast and dangerous jungles of unknown albums filled with throat singing*, in order to find your newest favourite artists. One of the best examples of a YouTube-born success story is Rochester, N.Y. native, singer-songwriter Lauren O’Connell. Her career began to take off after she started reaching an audience beyond her local Rochester fans, with the help of everyone’s friendly neighborhood YouTube page. O’Connell’s latest album, Quitters (released in 2012), is a great example of what happens when you take true talent, put it in front of a microphone, and allow it to reach people around the world.
* We would like our readers to note that the author of this article is not, and has never been opposed to listening to Tuvan throat singing (especially after a few drinks, and when he’s trying to impress girls). That being said, we would also like our readers to know that, as of December 2013, we don’t know of any East Coast-based musicians that currently use throat singing in their songs. Also, Tibetan love songs are weird. Seriously, you should check them out. That sh*t is freaky.
‘Every Space’ starts the album off, and we’re greeted with O’Connell’s trademark quietly-introspective-yet-heartwarmingly-optimistic sound. This is perhaps one of the best opening tracks on an album that I’ve heard in a long while. The song sounds almost as though we’re continuing a conversation with O’Connell that we’d begun before the first track. The almost minimalist instrumentation in the first minute or so of the song works to great effect, focusing the listener’s attention on the lyrics, more than on the music itself. That’s not to say that the music itself isn’t great. Acoustic guitar, muted percussion, and organ (that’s an organ in the background, right?), build to the climax of the track. O’Connell’s musings about life are perfectly showcased on this track, and the lyrics have an emotional honesty that comes across as surprisingly real and heartfelt.
‘I Will Burn You Down‘ is exactly the kind of quirky, slightly offbeat commentary that one would expect from the indie generation. Thankfully, it doesn’t fall into a false preachiness, wisely choosing to keep things personal. The long and the short of it is that it’s simply a song about love, heartbreak, and apparently the heartbreaking nature of home ownership. I found this track surprisingly refreshing. The music itself is pretty straightforward, but it’s the lyrics that stand out on this track. O’Connell draws parallels between people’s lives and love affairs, and the houses they live in (that might just be the lamest description I’ve ever written). In the song’s opening she paints a picture of herself sneaking into someone’s house, and inspecting what they’ve done with the place. This is, in my opinion, a great metaphor for taking a peek into the life of someone you might have had feelings for. A great concept.
‘I Belong to You’ is an honest-to-goodness love song, and despite the fact that I’m not really a “love song” kind of guy (personally, I think Led Zeppelin is great romance music), I still think that this song might just be the best track on the album. This song sees O’Connell team up with California-based singer Ryan Lerman, for a track that is surprisingly more than a simple love song. Sure it’s full of tender onomatopoeia (ooooohhh-ing and ahhhh-ing all over the place), but it’s also filled with small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them digs at contemporary artists. It even includes the line “Nothing is just born to die”. Unless you’ve been dead until now, you’ll probably know to which contemporary artist this quip is addressed (that’s Lana Del Rey, for all you recently reanimated corpses). Aside from subtle pop culture references, the song is also a perfectly constructed and balanced affair, with both Lerman and O’Connell interweaving their voices perfectly together, making for a heartfelt love song that has more verismo, than soppy tropes.
‘If Found/Gravity’ is easily one of the best tracks on the album. There is a sense of acceptance and finality about this track, almost as though O’Connell has moved on with her life, after some sort of relationship. Not much is going on musically for the first three or so minutes, but everything gradually builds to this double track’s climax chorale (‘Gravity’) around the four-and-a-half minute mark. ‘Gravity’ comes after the whole buildup on ‘If Found’, and it subverts the “explosive climax” (nope, not an innuendo) music trope, choosing a more muted, and more personal repeated chorus. The accompaniment here adds a suffused glow to the whole affair, giving off a distinct impression of O’Connell riding off into the sunset on a grand piano (what . . . you want to tell me you can’t ride a piano into the sunset?). This track, is most certainly a stunner, and it might just be my “most favouritest” track on the album.
‘Maybe True Stories’ is another gorgeous track, full of gutsiness and feistiness. It’s unapologetic, and it gives the listener the distinct feeling that the song’s protagonist has abandoned the life of hypocritical rules according to which most people live their lives. The music highlights this feeling of freedom, underlining it with sunshine drenched acoustic and electric guitars that break out around the two minute mark. You get a feeling of joy at the fact that the song’s protagonist has managed to cut through the bullsh*t of little crappy rules and conveniences and hypocrisies that people use to guide their lives. It’s a very freeing, feel-good song, and another one of my favourite tracks.
‘In the Next Room’ is a waltzy track, with a slow, shuffling, almost jazz-like beat. Just as the song’s title implies, it uses the “voices in the next room” as an effective metaphor for outsiderness. You get the feeling of looking in on other people’s lives, and also a sense of disappointment and regret at one’s own life. The beautiful thing about this track is that it’s not dour and depressing, but rather contemplative and introspective. The combination of piano and strings present in the background lend this track what I can only describe as a three-a.m.-and-I’m-still-awake-in-this-big-city feeling. It’s somewhere in between serenity and depression (yeah, I totally lifted that line from an X-Men movie). It doesn’t bash you over the head with it’s message, but it’s exactly this quiet introspection (and to a certain extent, acceptance) that gets you right in the feels (as the cool kids say now-a-days). Again, this is easily one of the best tracks on the album.
‘Things Are Alright’ is by no means a bad track. It only landed on the bad side of this review because of my personal preferences. I find it a little too mopey, and a little too self-indulgent. Lyrics that talk about how loneliness is better than love give this track the feeling that O’Connell has given up on life. Unfortunately, that doesn’t come across as sincerely as she would have wanted. It’s still a great song (the sparse instrumentation works to great effect), but it strays a little into self-indulgence. Pity party for one, please.
Another small gripe of mine is that this album is a little too uniform. It sounds good, but then again, you can have too much of a good thing. Most of the songs are about finding/being in/losing/getting over love, and unfortunately the music sort of reflects that uniformity in subject matter. It’s somewhat ironic that I complain about every song sounding the same, since my own reviews repeat more or less the same gripes over and over (making them just as uniform as the albums I’m reviewing); however, I would have liked a little more variation.
Finally, I found the album’s subject matter (heartbreak, insecurities, love, etc . . .) to be very similar to O’Connell’s previous albums, which is a little too repetitive. Don’t get me wrong, she’s very good at what she does, but I would like to hear her tackle different subjects, kinda like she did on ‘Maybe True Stories’, and ‘If Found/Gravity’.
The Verdict – 8.8 (Great)
– O’Connell hits all the right notes, both musically and lyrically, getting her message across perfectly.
– Sparse instrumentation on many of the tracks highlight the moments where the music blossoms into climax (still not an innuendo).
– The album has many high points, such as ‘If Found/Gravity’ and ‘Maybe True Stories’.
– There are very few missteps on this album, with more or less all the tracks being great.
– ‘Things Are Alright’ sounds a little too self-pitying.
– The album is a little too uniform.
– More of the same subject matter as her previous albums.