Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Blessed Unrest | Sara Bareilles

Rating: ★★★★☆

Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles reached quite a big milestone this year, having been nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance and Album of the Year at the 56th Annual Grammys Ceremony. Although she didn't win either category, even being nominated should speak for itself. Both nominations came from her latest album, The Blessed Unrest, and its lead single. With all of this buzz, I thought it was a wise time to finally review it.

The lead single that preceded The Blessed Unrest is one of my favorites off of the album, but it doesn't really match the sound of the rest of the album. "Brave" seems to be tacked on the front the album that is dominated by piano ballads and toned-down sounds simply for curb appeal for radio listeners. 

In the end though, I'm happy it was added onto the album, because it's a great self-empowerment song. Bareilles has said multiple times in interviews that it was an anthem written for her friend that was hiding that fact that he was gay. It is such a beautiful little gem and shows people that songwriters can in fact write a self-empowerment song without constantly relying on clichés like "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "I went from zero to my own hero." (I'm looking right at you, Kelly and Katy. Especially you Katy, thanks to your cheap knock-off of this song.)

Once "Brave" ends, the true colors of The Blessed Unrest come through: it is an emotionally-charged, ballad-filled album. The relatively pop sound goes out the window and is replaced by a contemporary sound starting with "Chasing the Sun" and "Hercules." My favorite of the two is "Hercules," which uses layered vocal line pattern, piano, and drums to create a semi-tribal sound. Later in the track listing, "Satellite Call" also brings a new sound to the album, using some twinkles and vocal edits to create a very peaceful and open song.

"Manhattan" is a very simple ballad, featuring just Bareilles and a piano. The lyrics circle around a break-up, and after the said break-up, Bareilles cannot stop thinking about her ex while in the city. "You can have Manhattan, because I can't have you," she offers in the song. Sure, break-up songs are nothing new, but this one seems so heartfelt compared to some of the other contemporary pop bits out there. Bareilles' voice shines in the track, and she is able to showcase her dynamic control with this track, too.

Another bare-bones piano and vocal track is also one of my favorites from the album: "Islands." This song shows Bareilles at her most vulnerable state, as it is truly about isolationism after a relationship. "When will you realize? / You must become an island," sings Bareilles. However, she wants to be sure that her ex is still experiencing the same loneliness and is doing okay during this time: "Holding my breath until I know you'’re alright because the water will only rise…." This song has such a beautiful sound and creative metaphoric meaning; it's really a great introduction to the album if anybody is on the edge on whether or not to buy it.

All in all, The Blessed Unrest is an extremely peaceful listen. A lot of the songs are really appropriate for a long, lonely, relaxing car ride at night. I'm sure "Brave" will be rotated on contemporary mix radio stations for years to come, and I wouldn't mind hearing a lot of these songs more often in a casual public setting. For some reason, I could just imagine hearing "Manhattan," "Eden," and "Hercules" in a Kohl's store. That's not a bad thing by any means, though; a lot of the music at Kohl's is really relaxing.

Before this becomes a review of the music selection at department stores, though, I must wrap this up. Fans of mix radio stations will more than likely love this album; it aims directly for that category. No, it's not going to be an album that you will be tapping your foot to; it's an album that will make you relax. It gets a tad repetitive in terms of sound, but overall it's a solid album. Bareilles has come leaps and bounds since her first album and some evolution has gone far for her.

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