Vanessa Carlton: ‘Liberman’

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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)!

Tour Dates

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.

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