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Rockin' Our Turntable: Rachael Yamagata

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 30, 2008 6:55PM

2008_10_Elephants.jpgRachael Yamagata has managed to accumulate a fervently fan base since the release of her debut EP five years ago. While her music keeps popping up in various movies and television shows, she hasn't managed to capture the larger cultural zeitgeist with massive album sales, so it's not hard to see why her previous label might have balked and dropped her when presented with the material that went on to populate Yamagata's sophomore album, Elephants ...Teeth Sinking Into Heart. Their loss.

Elephants ...Teeth Sinking Into Heart has been touted as a double album, but it's actually an album of thematically tight material with an EP of jauntier tracks tacked on. It's a canny move; had you tried to combine the two CDs into a single album the result would have been aural whiplash, and would have resulted in a scatter shot album full of good music but diminished by poor sequencing. The first disc is the one we view as the full album, and it is full of moody ruminations along themes familiar to Yamagata -- loss and heartbreak -- so fans will find themselves on familiar terrain. One of Yamagata's lyrical strengths is to channel bitterness and confusion into language that is both simple and direct, bringing the listener closer to the raw emotion and feeling as if they are part of the song.

It's the sound of the disc that finds Yamagata taking her largest leap forward stylistically. The song arrangements are daring, the instrumentation is dark and often starkly minimal. This is a world of grays punctuated by brief flashes of color and light. One tends to feel constricted, and the moments when things open up -- as on the strings that swell during "Elephants," it feels as if you're taking in deep breaths of delicious oxygen. But even the tighter moments exalt as they bind the listener ever closer to Yamagata's delivery.

The second disc in the set has five more musically upbeat tracks, and these are the tracks we suspect her new label, Warner Brothers, will be pedaling to radio and TV. The lyrical content is still pretty dark here, and provides some off the angrier moments of delivery from Yamagata, so it's not exactly fluff, but after the heaviness of the first disc these tracks can't help but come off sounding far lighter. And one of the tracks, "Faster," is an unrelentingly terrific blend of aggression and sneering bitterness.

Taken in part or as a whole we found Elephants ...Teeth Sinking Into Heart bold in its refusal to hew to expectations as it delivers a powerful listening experience time and again.

Rachael Yamagata performs November 5 at Park West, 322 W Armitage, 7 p.m., $20, all ages