[29 October 2009]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
People Eating People’s eponymous release, the solo project of Nouela Johnston (formerly of Mon Frere), is being touted as a record resembling the early work of Tori Amos and Regina Spektor. Granted, such comparisons are often employed by marketing gurus to package albums, and as such, they tend to be a little uninformed. Certainly Nouela’s songs are anchored by righteous piano playing like Amos, and her voice possesses the jittery, stop-start qualities of Spektor. However, alongside this is a unique soulfulness that falls somewhere between Nina Simone and Fiona Apple.
The album opens with “Darling”, and its upbeat and churning jazz piano brings to mind Apple’s on Extraordinary Machine with the vocal delivery of a young Gwen Stefani. She takes this up a notch with “All the Hospitals”, which rollicks with a dark sense of humor. By the third track, “I Hate All My Friends”, Johnston lets her rage loose. It isn’t until “For Now” that the artist becomes truly accessible. Anchored by a simple melody, the song echoes the album’s quietly thematic obsession of empowerment, while also harking to romantic allusions without seeming overtly syrupy. This follows by perhaps the album’s highlight, “Building Armor”, which somehow manages to sound like a Lilith Fair version of “I Will Survive” between intermittent fits of angst-ridden splendor. Although many will recoil at the thought of unearthing a musical fad that seemed to have petered out by the late ‘90s, others will relish the opportunity to indulge in this virtuous female-led contemporary release.