When Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in 1974, he accomplished an amazing feat. But when boiled down to the essentials, Petit simply walked from one point to another. So too does Singer/Songwriter Rachael Yamagata with her fourth full-length album ‘Tightrope Walker.’
Free from the confines of a record label, Yamagata deepens her sound with instrumental experimentation and a broader subject matter that seems to encompass, well, life. Inspired by Petit and his “there is no why” philosophy, Yamagata set out to express the human experience, as well as her own, in this newest release. Departing from her standard of love-lorn focused tracks, Yamagata explores both family and career hardships on a darker note than she’s previously displayed. While standout tracks either take on the soft, romance we’ve come to love from Yamagata or a PJ-Harvey edginess, they all feature a haunting aspect; Whether engendered by phantom-esque background vocals or hissing electric guitar, this eerier sound perfectly fits the themes ‘Tightrope Walker’ attempts to convey. Life is full of ghosts; those of who we were, circumstances that make us who we are, people we’ve known. Yamagata confronts these apparitions in ‘Tightrope Walker,’ but most importantly shows the listener how she persevered from one point to the next.
The album’s opener observes Petite’s accomplishment, but also denotes the metaphor his feat takes on for the album as a whole (here, in both sound and content.) Yamagata’s breathy vocals tip-toe across a hollow drum beat as an electric guitar intermittently bounces in. The soundscape immediately recalls the movement of string under the weight of a focused foot. And as Yamagata sings “He don’t move cuz somebody tells him to/ And he don’t do it for the money/ And he don’t do it for the fame,” she alludes to the album’s production. Yamagata financed the album through the crowdfunding site PledgeMusic, and without a label to answer to, was allowed the freedom to experiment consistent with her current state as an artist. ’Nobody’ comes in with a harder edge; with a heartbeat bass line and claps almost chasing Yamagata’s heavier vocals, the listener follows and falls into a charcoal-laced hole lined with unpredictable melodies, screeching guitar and shadowing background singers.
While it’s not easy traversing the border between the general human experience and one’s own, Yamagata’s poetic yet concise lyrics find their course. Like in ‘Over,’ where, in vocals that range from sing-song to cascading, she relays what it’s like to finally be right: “Lately I’ve stopped listening to voices/ Urging me to open up the door/ Thankfully I don’t regret my choices/ History has brought me back before.” While ‘Over’ and the following ‘Let Me Be Your Girl’ are enjoyable, they seem to be missing the freshness that comes with the edgier sound heard elsewhere on the album. Interest here seems synonymous with vocals that aim downwards rather than upwards. On ‘EZ Target,’ Yamagata sings into a gothic banjo as a bevy of chimes, morose piano, and pulsating percussion shovel in. While some tracks on ‘Tightrope Walker’ aren’t as noteworthy as those that display Yamagata’s new layer, they are worth listening to for the artistic experimentation. See ‘Rainsong,’ where an iPhone recording of raindrops splattering on a stool opens the intro. The ending ‘Money Fame Thunder’ forgoes the tension the rest of the album perseveres through and instead opts for optimism. As Yamagata comes full circle, recalling the tightrope walker the album begins with, she sings, with a ‘Sgt. Pepper’-like jauntiness, ‘Just one foot in front of the other.’