Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Review: Amidst the Chaos • Sara Bareilles

Sara Bareilles carries plenty of titles: A singer, a pop and Broadway songwriter, a bestselling author, a television producer, a stage actress, and from time to time, a master-class, master-sass diss track author. She has admitted in press junkets recently that activist, however, is a relatively new one.

As Donald Trump bullied his way into the Oval Office throughout 2015 and 2016, Bareilles was seemingly cradled in the fictional pie-scented world of Waitress, a popular stage production for which she wrote the music and lyrics. But everything is not always what it seems: Amidst the Chaos, her first autobiographic musical statement since 2013, fuses political undertones to her traditional love and heartbreak themes. Lead single "Armor," a call to power adorned with heavy drums and a jazzy piano line, was inspired by the Women's March in 2017, and most of the yearning and sadness on the record were attributed to Barack Obama leaving office.

With a self-imposed moral obligation to make a political statement, Bareilles pivots from piano-dominated adult contemporary to textured folk, a genre known to have carried the voices of resistance for decades. She always approached music from a singer-songwriter's state of mind, but even The Blessed Unrest, still her most impressive outing, seems somewhat tame in comparison to the textured soundscapes of Amidst the Chaos. Upbeat and sorrowful moments alike are less concerned with a climactic payoff, with the songs allowed to billow out. "Saint Honesty" may be where this tactic works best, though, as Bareilles praises the power of truth over a four-and-a-half minute guitar and drum track.

She sometimes allows uncomplicated romanticism to stream out, like on "Miss Simone," a subtle but steady acoustic track that captures Bareilles’ escape into love, and "Someone Who Loves Me," a sleepy tune that is bound to be playing in a coffee shop somewhere right now, for better or for worse. "No Such Thing" and "If I Can’t Have You," however, are heartbroken tracks about the end of the Obama administration. Bareilles drowns in her own grieving on the first cut, but the second sees her peak her head above water as she contemplates how to cope without solid leadership in federal government.

Social media platforms, which privilege the most vicious and the most vocal, have augmented the screaming matches of polarized politics; fire is most often fought with fire. Bareilles, however, tosses water into the flames – even opening number "Fire," which marks the end of a love interest with acceptance, is cool and moody. And perhaps its soothing qualities are what make Amidst the Chaos an enjoyable listen. Although melodically meandering at times, it serves its purpose as the portrait of a familiar face – one that can hold itself calm and steady, even in the darkest of times.

Amidst the Chaos is available now under Epic Records.

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