After the reigning success of “A Thousand Miles” from her debut Be Not Nobody in 2003, Vanessa Carlton released the not-so-popular Harmonium (2004) and Heroes & Thieves (2007). Despite the commercial failures of the two albums, Carlton moved on to release Rabbits on the Run through label Razor & Tie in 2011. Critics viewed the album as “introspective,” with generally favorable reviews on rating websites like Metacritic. Roughly four years later, Carlton has discovered a different sound and a different side of herself. After marrying fellow musician John McCauley (Deer Tick) and having a baby girl, Carlton’s life has changed drastically, and that change translates directly to her music. The singer’s upcoming fifth studio album Liberman explores the sensation of taking time off to do things you actually want to do, and the reflection of self that comes with having a change of pace.
Compared to the immediately recognizable commercial pop of “A Thousand Miles,” Liberman has reached into a smooth synth-pop dreamland. “Take It Easy” starts the album with an unexpected direction. Carlton sounds like Ellie Goulding but with drowned out vocals more commonly found in low-fi tracks. The combination left a calming atmosphere for Carlton to achieve another pop success.
The album is saturated with Carlton’s signature piano hooks, and for “Willow” they open the track up without drawing too much attention from Carlton’s vocal range. “Willow” and “Blue Pool” (track 5) give off the impression of a medieval renaissance pub during the middle of a shanty.
The track is immediately followed by the hauntingly beautiful “House of Seven Swords,” where the lyric “together and we’re still on our own” sets the definition for the album. Liberman has Carlton reconnecting to her roots, discussing major life changes and how they’ve impacted her views. “House of Seven Swords” looks at that angle through a sweet and slightly melancholy glass. “Operator” expands on the themes in “House of Seven Swords” more blatantly. As Carlton says, “pack up your things, I don’t care what you bring, leave your house for a home.” Family is now a huge part of Carlton’s life, and her move from New York City to Nashville had to leave behind emotional impact that is reflected in her music.
“Matter of Time” opens with an acoustic guitar, which is very refreshing after an album of mainly synthetic drift. The track also shows variety in layered harmonies, something that Carlton does magnificently. The stripped down sound accompanied by multiple Carltons singing “when is it time to let go?” is a sincere and heartfelt expression towards the world.
Tracks 6 and 8, “Nothing Where Something Used to Be” and “Unlock the Lock” respectively, show more of the mindset that Carlton has acquired, but with less of the variation that is expected from someone of her musical talent. The tracks are catchy enough, but not near the same caliber as other tracks on the album. While not necessarily a let down, they offer a slightly disjointed feel to the rest of the listing.
The real star of the album is the simple and refined “Ascension.” The first minute of the song is filled with alternating piano chords and synthetic distortion that works suprisingly well together. Carlton sings very little on this track, letting the overall sound speak for itself. A good move. Her very obvious piano skills are highlighted while incorporating stylistic elements of shoegaze around 1:46 to add twists to the straightforward song.
Overall, Carlton has experienced a big move. The lyrical reflections of her path in Liberman are honest, playful, and jarring. By stripping down to the core of emotion, Carlton has tapped into her lyrical strengths while experimenting with sound, resulting in a beautiful calming album.
Check out Liberman, out today, and be sure to catch Vanessa on her upcoming US tour (dates below)!
Oct 30 Louisville, KY @ Zanzabar
Oct 31 Indianapolis, IN @ The Hi-Fi
Nov 01 Iowa City, IA @ The Englert Theatre
Nov 02 Green Bay, WI @ Meyer Theatre
Nov 04 Minneapolis, MN @ Cedar Cultural Center
Nov 05 Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room
Nov 06 Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck
Nov 07 St Louis, MO @ Duck Room at Blueberry Hill
Nov 09 Columbus, OH @ A&R Music Bar
Nov 10 Chicago, IL @ City Winery
Nov 11 Evanston, IL @ SPACE
Nov 13 Ann Arbor, MI @ The Blind Pig
Nov 14 Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Cafe
Nov 15 Cleveland, OH @ Music Box Supper Club
Nov 17 London, Ontario @ London Music Hall
Nov 18 Toronto, Ontario @ Mod Club
Nov 20 Montreal, Quebec @ Lion d’Or
Nov 21 Ottawa, Ontario @ Mavericks
Nov 23 Hamilton, Ontario @ Molson Canadian Studio at Hamilton Place
Nov 30 New York, NY @ City Winery
Dec 01 New York, NY @ City Winery
Dec 03 Troy, NY @ Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Dec 04 Northampton, MA @ Iron Horse Music Hall
Dec 05 Portland, ME @ Asylum
Dec 07 Allston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall
Dec 08 Fairfield, CT @ StageOne
Dec 09 Philadelphia, PA @ World Cafe Live
Dec 11 Washington, DC @ The Howard Theatre
Dec 12 Charlottesville, VA @ The Southern
Dec 14 Durham, NC @ The Carolina Theatre
Dec 15 Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West
Dec 16 Birmingham, AL @ WorkPlay
Dec 17 Nashville, TN @ 3rd & Lindsley
Dec 19 Asheville, NC @ New Mountain Theatre
While attending the University of Georgia for magazine journalism and music business, Maria still finds time to binge watch The X-Files and collect art socks. The proud owner of a floor length fur coat, Maria plans to Throwdown with Bobby Flay and finally stop procrastinating, eventually. Her passions include black clothing, petting other people's cats and making blanket forts in her apartment, but she is also above-average excited about horoscopes, bento boxes and emo music.