Alison Sudol returns this week with the release of her second album recorded under her stage name A Fine Frenzy, "Bomb In A Birdcage". Upon first listen, it's clear she's taking things in a bit of a poppier, more upbeat direction, although I'm not sure it completely works.
Her first album, 2007's "One Cell In The Sea", was an ethereal beaut, showcasing a bright new talent on the female singer/songwriter (and pianist) horizon. Another album in the same vein would certainly be a nice listen all the way through, but wouldn't be pushing any new limits for Sudol, so I appreciate the attempt to try some new sounds on her sophomore release.
Album opener "What I Wouldn't Do" announces this will be a different sounding album with hand claps, whistles reminiscent of Andrew Bird, and a sing along, bouncy chorus. "Electric Twist" is as close to a dance track as A Fine Frenzy has come and musically it works. Some of Sudol's squeaky, yelping vocals on this track are grating however, and detract from an otherwise fun song. First single, "Blow Away", also keeps the upbeat mode of the early part of the album going with driving guitars and drums, but there's nothing that sets it apart from numerous other, far less talented, female pop singers.
Despite her intentions to branch out here, Sudol's music still works best when it's the piano driven, mid-tempo ballad style of the majority of her first album. And after experimenting a bit in the early part of "Bomb In A Birdcage", she seems to revert to the sound that won over so many on "One Cell" on the second half of this album. That's not a bad thing either as "New Heights", "Happier", and "Elements" are among the best tracks on "Bomb", with Sudol's rich vocal abilities on full display.
Most promising, the album's highlight is also one of the more daring tracks. "Stood Up" is an all-out rock ballad, complete with driving bass, a repeated electric guitar line and a mid-song break that goes into Sudol's echoed vocals backed by just a pounding drum pattern before kicking into an all out wall of sound to close the track. This is a direction I'd be anxious to hear more of from A Fine Frenzy as opposed to going the road of dance-pop touched upon earlier on the album. "Stood Up" works to perfection.
There are some mis-steps on "Bomb In A Birdcage" but overall, they do nothing to ruin A Fine Frenzy's reputation as someone worth continuing to keep an eye on.