on October 16, 2012
Alison has always proven to be an amazing storyteller and she showcases her skills even more so on Pines. Many of the songs are slow but they are hauntingly beautiful. The songs have layers of depth but are simplistic in style; you can tell that every note, every sound, every instrument in the music was put there intentionally to help tell the story that Alison wanted told.
The emotions throughout the album ebb and flow with each song. There are periods where the songs are slow, and even a bit sad, and then a faster track kicks in. I feel that the album needs to be viewed as a whole, and not necessarily picked apart song by song. It represents a person finding themself, (which is resolved at the end, made clear by songs like "It's Alive" and "Now Is The Start") but not before long periods of sadness and frustration. It may be a bit shocking to hear a faster track amidst a sea of sadder songs but it is true to life; our emotions change minute by minute, day by day, and I feel that the album does an excellent job of making that point and taking you on the rollercoaster of emotions a person feels while trying to figure out who they are.
This is her most personal album yet and the emotion and conviction with which she sings the songs makes that evident. This album is a true beauty.
on October 17, 2012
Upon first listen, I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed. I read the early reviews (one in particular) that mentioned a lack of identity and theme. There were enough good songs in her offering for me to give the CD more of a chance. What I noticed was that the artist seemed to be blending the success that she experienced in both her first and second CDs. While some of the songs were upbeat and reminded me of her second CD (Bomb in A Birdcage), when pitted alongside the slower ballads, they seemed just a tad out of place. When rearranging the order of the "Pine" tracks, I discovered what I quietly and hopefully suspected--that is: this CD surpasses her other two in both depth and maturity. If you are curious, listen to the tracks in the following order: #3,#1,#9,#7,#5,#13,#10,#12,#4,#8,#11,#2,& #6.
To truly appreciate this CD, one must pay close attention to both the lyrics and the message that she is trying to convey. This is a very spiritual record that focuses on the importance of self-acceptance and moving forward in life. From what I can tell, Allison is more than a capable teacher; she is a master and we are her apprentices! While she alludes to events within her own life journey, this is the type of record that the listener can truly take to heart and relate their own life experiences to. This, I think, is what makes "Pines" so compelling. This CD is focused on conveying an honest and uplifting message meant for all who will take the time to listen.
Some of "Pines" many musical highlights are as follows:
Track #1--Pinesong is about waking up from a broken dream and "pining" toward the next moment. She begins, "The time has come for giving up/I have lost/I wanted to become what I cannot". She continues: "The words you speak stir things in me that I thought were gone/Their faint white heat melts centuries deep in frost".
On Track #5--The Sighting, she touches on the importance of living in each moment, "I wish that you would Jump/But I can see your ties run deep and its not for me to cut you free".
Track #6--Dream in the Dark is about taking advantages of the opportunities we are given in life: "Spent my life waiting for a sight of the sea/Been sitting beside it and you're all that I've seen".
Track #9--They Can't If You Don't Let Them is about trusting your inner voice. She sings: "Fog and fears and a mouthful of hot tears can drown that voice sent to guide you/ And wicked tongues with their hooks and their ice blood can wake the demons inside you".
Track #11--Its Alive is about hoping for a defining moment even in the midst of sunken memories. She exclaims: "Never say never say never/say the sunken ship/For you never know where you're going to go...You can't be tethered to a ghost/To a memory/You've got to swim".
On Track #12--Now Is the Start, she sings about living in the present moment--Right Now: "Go and it goes with you where you go/The most faithful of friends, you don't need to think, you already know/You are right as you are"
Her last song, Track #13--Untitled, in my opinion, is the most profound and inspiring of all her songs. She summarizes everything conveyed so far in the CD: "Let your breath fill the empty space/Where you used to keep the dead weight/Where you stand is where you belong/The place you've been looking for all along
Other notable themes I will mention to the reader only in passing:
Track #2--Winds of Wander: Loosening the reins of the past and drift to where your "breath" is leading you.
Track #3--Avalanches: In the silence of our own breath, there are no avalanches.
Track #4--Riversong: Flow like the river and you will find out where you belong.
In closing, let me just say that this record demands the listener's full attention and is best heard with earphones. It is definitely not the kind of record that makes for good background music. That being said, this is probably one of the most edifying CDs I have ever heard in my life. It truly possesses the potential to change your life forever.
Well done, Allison!!
on November 5, 2012
Listening to A Fine Frenzy's newest album, PINES, I was somewhat bewildered. I frequently checked the MP3 player to ensure that I was indeed listening to Alison Sudol. While I absolutely love this album, I'm not sure how most of her fans will receive it.
ONE CELL IN THE SEA was a pretty straight-forward pop record. Sudol's voice and piano were frequently dominating the mix, but at the core of it, the album was a solid work from a great songwriter. Her second full-length album, BOMB IN A BIRDCAGE, was a bit different. It didn't feel exactly like a pop record -- Sudol's willingness to try new things made the album different from its predecessor and (at least for me) a great success. Alison Sudol's third album really comes from left field. Because BOMB IN A BIRDCAGE dabbled in atmostpherics and electronics, I was expecting something similar, but PINES a stripped down, minimalist affair.
From the very first track, it's obvious that this album is going to be different than anything A Fine Frenzy has ever done before. The introductory track, "Pinesong" is slow to begin, and it leads with a wonderful acoustic guitar riff. The only thing recognizable here is Alison Sudol's wonderful voice -- these songs do have hints of her songwriting, but for the most part, it feels dramatically different. I honestly don't know if I have seen such a leap in songwriting: PINES is mature, confident, and vulnerable. "Riversong" feels like a reverent prayer to nature, and "Dream in the Dark" barely contains more than just Sudol's vocals. This song sets the pace for most of the songs to come, and mostly, the spare, lonely atmospheres that are created here having a huge beating heart at the core of them. The tone is so consistent that when "It's Alive" comes in with its electronics and percussion, it's a bit jarring, even though his song sounds like something we would have expected from A Fine Frenzy.
While I have to say that this is my favorite A Fine Frenzy record to date, it's not without its few problems. The album isn't always consistent: "It's Alive," and "Now is the Start" sound like songs that would have been prepared for BOMB IN A BIRDCAGE. The melodies aren't as strong here either: there's no "Almost Lover" or "Electric Twist" that are immediately accessible. I don't know if I would blindly recommend this to other A Fine Frenzy -- I would strongly recommend fans to sample this album before diving in. Fans of Sara Bareilles and Norah Jones should find a good bit here to love. The minimal instrumentation might not be everyone's cup of tea. Essential tracks to sample/download: "Pinesong," "Winds of Wander," and "It's Alive."
on October 26, 2012
I was so excited for this album.
I bought One Cell In The Sea back when it came out in 2007, and I liked it a lot. Her sweet voice and piano captured me into buying her second album, Bomb In A Birdcage, in 2009. I absolutely fell in love with this album. It took her music to the next level, a little more upbeat, and her song-writing abilities shined like never before. Alison has inspired my own music greatly and my lyrics. I cover her songs a lot when I play live.
I saw on twitter she was making a new album called Pines. I saw the "album trailer" on YouTube and got even more excited.
Finally, after months of waiting, Pines was released and I went out to buy it.
I popped it in my computer, put on my skullcandy headphones, closed my eyes and gave it a listen. I'm writing this review as I listen to the album for the second time.
1. The opening song, Pinesong, I was very impressed with. It begins with a haunting cello, then brings in an acoustic guitar duet. Alison's voice is as beautiful as ever. More beautiful than the previous albums, which is why this review has three stars. It gets a little more exciting with drums and bass. But I emphasize the word "little."
2. I thought the next track would be more exciting. But no. Winds of Wander opens with quiet birds chirping, then a relatively boring guitar melody. Alison's voice really shines, but it's wasted on a melody that is very boring. In comes some piano, and cello. Honestly, this track really has nothing special about it. It's boring. Just boring.
3. Next comes Avalanches (Culla's Song). Alison's lyrics shine. "You bring light and second chances" really pops out to me. This song is much more what you would have heard on One Cell.
4. Riversong begins with a slow and full-sounding piano. I find this song sounds similar to "The Beacon" from Bomb In A Birdcage. If you're curious as to which song was on the Pines Album Trailer, it's this one. In comes some cello. I absolutely LOVE the lyrics in this.
5. The Sighting begins with guitar and Alison's lyrics. I don't find anything special about it, really.
6. Dream In The Dark begins with an acoustic guitar, almost sounding like a ukulele. It may be a six-string ukulele. I can't decide which it is. Alison's voice sounds far away, or like it was recorded on an iPhone with a bit of background noise and the quality not being very good. There's a solo of this ukulele-sounding instrument that eventually fades out, and then we hear about 10 seconds of ocean waves.
7. Next is Sailingsong. This is very upbeat! Something I would expect from Bomb In A Birdcage. Not really her best though. You'll know what I mean when you hear it. It has a repetitive feel.
8. Sadseasong's introduction are two violins that don't seem to know what each other is playing. It fades into a dreamy sounding escape. Then starts an average-sounding song. Nothing special about this one, either.
9. They Can't If You Don't Let Them's introduction is pretty funky. Then begins a "Norah Jones-Not Too Late(Album)" sounding song. I honestly don't really like this track's sound. Alison's voice is really excellent though.
10. Dance Of The Grey Whales begins with a whale-cry sounding moment. This song is an instrumental. The rest of the song is piano.
11. It's Alive is my favourite track on this whole album. It actually sounds like a combination of what you would have heard on One Cell and Bomb In A Birdcage. Yes, both. I love this song.
12. Now Is The Start was the first single. It sounds similar to It's Alive. It's a bit odd that she'd place It's Alive and this song next to one another on the track listing. It has a bit of an electronic and pop influence. You'll really notice it 2:30 into the song.
13. Untitled (Grasses Grow) I love this track as well. This also sounds similar to The Beacon from Bomb In A Birdcage. Alison's voice is very pure. It's a nice end to an alright album.
On my iTunes, I gave 5 stars to six of the tracks: Pinesong, Avalanches (Culla's Song), Riversong, Dream In The Dark, It's Alive, Now Is The Start, and Untitled (Grasses Grow). 4 stars to three tracks: Sailingsong, Sadseasong, Dance Of The Grey Whales. 3 stars to two tracks: The Sighting, They Can't If You Don't Let Them. 2 stars to one track: Winds of Wander.
This is my review of Pines. Overall, it's worth buying. But it's definitely my least favourite album of hers.
on October 16, 2012
I agree that this album is completely different from anything that AFF has previously released.
That said, I cannot remember a time when I was so moved by the vulnerability of an album.
"Riverside" might be the most beautiful thing I have ever heard, I almost wept. My only real complaint is that the up tempo songs that were added, felt like they were added to bring some diversity, but didn't fit the overall theme of the album. This is a very chill, peaceful, relaxing album and those additional songs really just don't follow the organic direction that the rest of the album was taking.
Overall, it felt like a journey. She sticks to the "pines, nature, outdoors, peace" theme really well without feeling like she was trying too hard.
Let's face it, an artist this talented, with such an exquisite and unique sound, could make an album of her reading the phone book and it'd still be a million times better than half the other auto-tuned, over processed garbage out there. This girl is a real artist and while it's not exactly like everything else she's put out, it was still a joy to take this journey. She pretty much had me at "Riverside" but the whole album is a real joy. If you love her voice, this won't fail you.
on February 7, 2013
I fell in love with One Cell in the Sea and played it frequently for months after discovering it. Rangers is still in my "faves" playlist. This album felt darker, slower, and more depressing to me. It doesn't contain any songs that capture me in quite the same way, and seems to lack the momentum present in songs from the first two albums.
Alison Sudol's third album under the moniker A FINE FRENZY finds the artist evolving with a concept album dealing with the weighty issues of what it is to lack meaning and of finding one's purpose in this life. Before one can appreciate what the album is, one must first understand what it is not. It is not a retread of the previous two albums - it is not a collection of catchy tunes and memorable hooks. What it is is a journey capturing the emotions that begin with a sense of loss, continues into a search for meaning, and ends with the revelation of where that meaning is derived. Those who would demand that Alison retain the same sound they've enjoyed in previous albums will be largely let down here. I'll be blunt about this - it's not musically as strong or diverse as what we've heard from her before - but digging deeper into the poetry of the writing, one will find a treasure worth seeking.
On the surface, the work is presented as a fable of a lone tree, the last remnant of a once great forest, literally pining for the life that once was, but is now lost. As the album unfolds, the tree is given the ability to leave where it has been rooted and set off in search of what it lost. But it discovers along the journey that one cannot find what one has lost - rather, one finds a NEW START.
Now, I can't speak for what Alison had in mind as she wrote many of these songs - but to me, there is an element here of what it is to first confront that awful chasm of adulthood that greets us all when we first step out of our childhood and realize it's "all on us now!" We long, sometimes, for the simple joys of our youth when everything seemed easy and happy - and many adults will lose years, even decades, refusing to grow up - finding ever more destructive ways through ever more destructive relationships, to try to "get back" to that feeling. But the revelation that hopefully comes to us sooner, rather than later, is that we cannot go back to the old life, but rather it is now our job to make a NEW life!
Musically, the album is a pretty bold departure from her first two works - which were much more melodic and peppy - verging on pop in some cases. Here, she has scaled back a lot of the production and many of the tracks slow to a snail's pace, to then be revived by a suddenly upbeat follow up track. Reading some of the reviews (and judging from my own first impression) this different approach is turning some fans off. I myself was a little confused the first time through.
It wasn't until I read up on the intent of the album, watched a track-by-track interview with the artist, and watched the short film she wrote to accompany the album (which you can find on Youtube by searching "The Story Of Pines" ) that I started to really hear the whole album. When you understand the flow of it, suddenly the full weight of it hits you! And the songs that appear to be complete changes of pace actually make sense when you understand where you are in the "story." This is a concept album, and concept albums have the one weakness that you often cannot pick songs out individually and call them "hits." Every song works together - some songs don't "pay off" until you listen to the next track. This is an album that must be listened to in a single and undistracted sitting, which can be a challenge as it clocks in at well over an hour. But it's worth it!
Those who loved her epic orchestrations on ONE CELL or her pop hooks on BIRDCAGE, may very well find this album off putting. It's a shame, because it is thematically a VERY profound work - and the orchestration of each track perfectly fits that flow of the story. I love that Alison has taken this risk - it put me off at first, I admit - but it quickly grew on me, and I'm finding this to be one of the best albums of this year!
I can't honestly say that I prefer this new album to her previous works, but I definitely am enjoying it - regardless of where it ranks, A FINE FRENZY still remains one of my favorite artists!
Well done, Alison!!
Now I will attempt a track-by-track description of the album - this is all based on my own reading of the lyrics, of course, so I could be way off. NOTE: The ratings don't necessarily denote the goodness or badness of the songs, but more the degree to which I felt they belong on the album.
PINESONGS (5 out of 5) - one of the best songs, a perfect piece to start with, sets the theme in motion about loss and pining for the past.
WINDS OF WANDER (4 out of 5) - the tree decides to stop pining and set out in search of what was lost
AVALANCHES (5 out of 5) - written by Alison on the occasion of her friend having a baby, the song serves both as a promise by the tree to protect the creatures that rest in its branches, and an anthem for parents who similarly promise their children the same protection - beautiful song.
The next three songs are probably where Alison loses a lot of the casual viewers, as the pace of the album slows to a near full stop...
RIVERSONG (4 out of 5) - deals with feeling a lack of purpose as the tree looks for love in those who, though willing, are simply unable to give it what it needs. The subtlety of the orchestration aptly matches the theme.
THE SIGHTING (3 out of 5) - an otherworldly piece in which the tree expresses that love is like a figure on a cliff that cannot be reached - we sometimes want to bring love down to OUR level, but it asks us to rise to its level instead, which we cannot do until we cast off our encumbrances. It's a lonely, hollow track - it's a decent song, but could maybe have been left off to better keep up the album's pace.
DREAM IN THE DARK (2 out of 5) - a simple lullaby, just Alison and a mandolin, musing on the moment of giving up searching for what was lost and can never be found. Between the choice to record this with a lowfi sound, and the fact that the next song picks up the same theme but in a much more positive manner, this is another song that, while lovely, could have been left off the album.
SAILINGSONG (5 out of 5) another of the album's best - finally infusing some hope and energy back into the proceedings. The tree has given up the search for what was, and is instead heading off to sea to find a new meaning, while the refrain echoes "You can't go back, no, you can't go back!" AFF fans will love this one.
SADSEASONG (2 out of 5) - evocative song of loneliness in the journey, what it means to live a life without meaning ... a fine song on its own, and I do understand its function on the album, particularly as it sets up the next track, but once again the album slows to a halt when it feels like it should be moving, following the last piece - I would probably have left this one off.
THEY CAN'T IF YOU DON'T LET THEM (4 out of 5) - this is cool song from Alison, pretty unique - detailing the perils of falling in with the wrong crowd, settling for instant happiness with the wrong people, rather than holding firm to the voice that has been guiding you toward a better, though difficult destination.
DANCE OF THE GREY WHALES (2 out of 5) - a short and wordless piano piece - once again, lovely in itself, but largely unnecessary at this point in the album.
IT'S ALIVE (4 out of 5) - the final leg of the album kicks off with a high-energy track, finally letting go of the ghosts of the past to embrace the future.
NOW IS THE START (5 out of 5) - the album's climactic moment is a wonderful song of rapturous joy! After such a long and dark journey, the revelation comes that meaning is found in the beginning of a new life. Whatever it is you've lost - childhood, a loved one, a job, a home... no matter what, you can't go back, but you can go forward, and find the new... this one of Alison's most exciting and joyous tracks - very wonderful, a great payoff to the entire album.
UNTITLED (2 out of 5) - I'm puzzled with the last piece - I think the album really should have ended with NOW IS THE START and the joy that erupts from it. But Alison goes once more to the slower and mournful, with a hint of hope in the chorus.
on December 3, 2012
Just like most people are saying, this album does differ from her other two... Obviously as it should.
Pines is a story, so to get the full affect of the album you do need to listen to each song through. And if you do and find you are not willing to take the journey with Alison, then that is fine.
But one thing that should be noted, this album is a story.
It is not one single "popular" song trying to carry the album to success.
I almost feel as though she wrote and created this album without the slightest care of mainstream success.
This album is for the heartbroken, the lost.. the "I don't know if I want to even get out of bed today" kinds of people.
It has soothed my bones and mended my heart and rid my body of all my emotional wounds.
I love Pines, and I think if you were to listen to it with its intent in mind; letting the words cradle your heart as the melody calms your soul,
I believe you too, will love Pines.
Much love and respect goes to Alison Sudol.
I have been a fan for some time, liking all of her previous work very much. This CD is much different and shows a new and beguiling side of Ms. Sudol. Much more introverted and moody, it delves deeper into the themes of figuring out what life is all about. I need to listen much more to unravel all the threads, but the CD has already grabbed me and ensured that I will be making that journey. The usual accomplished lyrics, melody, arrangements and production values are all here. The sound ranges from quiet to lively, but definitely feels more intimate overall.
I need to listen more, but wanted to give my thumbs up now as there are only a few reviews so far, though mostly very positive. This is a great "late night" CD.
It's wonderful to see this artist continue to grow and mature as a song writer and performer.
on March 17, 2015
I like "A Fine Frenzy" very much. Clearly alternative but gentle and soothing. Her album, "Pines" seems to be more "project" oriented and has a storyline to follow, but I do prefer her previous, 2007 release, "One Cell In The Sea" over this one, though Pines is wonderful as well. Alison's vocals, wording and phrasing are compelling and delightful. I am anxious to see a new release (hopefully) soon! I gave this 3 Stars, rather than 4 since I gave her 2007 release a 4 star rating. Still, this album is worth having if you like this style.