[9 August 2010]
Pop music, in this day and age, has grown to resemble the hydra of Greek myth, a slick serpent endlessly regenerating irresistible and irrepressible heads. Therefore, it is easy to overlook pop’s more modest beginnings as well as the perennial presence of this humble head, which still thrives right alongside its garish and more inventive brethren. Being well concealed, this facet of pop will never be defeated, and Australian singer-songwriter Sarah Blasko’s third album, As Day Follows Night, makes as strong a case as any for it.
As Day Follows Night received accolades on Blasko’s home continent, gaining the singer three ARIA nominations, Australia’s answer to the Grammys. When it was released in Europe in April of this year, the album was greeted with even more praise. The charm is clear: Blasko’s voice is plucky and pleasant, the production—care of Peter Bjorn and John’s Bjorn Yttling—is crisp, and the album contains enough stylistic diversity to keep things consistently interesting. However, as can be the case with kinder, throwback-oriented pop, As Day Follows Night is also tremendously inoffensive. Part of me wonders whether this inoffensiveness is part of its appeal. As solid a release as it is, As Day Follows Night can’t help but sound like the ideal soundtrack to order a grande Frappucino to.
Starbucks mood music aside, Blasko’s other reference points are far more inspiring. If we want to keep the references somewhat modern, opener “Down on Love” could be described as akin to Extraordinary Machine-era Fiona Apple. From a more traditional perspective, the song owes an ample debt to Billie Holiday’s way with phrasing, repaying the favor beautifully. “Lost & Defeated” and “Bird on A Wire” are so jazzy, cool, and mysterious they could find themselves at home in the clubs frequented by Holiday herself. But not all songs on As Day Follows Night have such standard inclinations. “Over & Over” riffs on Talking Heads’ “Road To Nowhere” on its way out the door. Overall, the song has the feel of one of David Byrne and co.‘s more world beat-centric efforts. There are also songs that glow with no shining reference points, such as “Sleeper Awake”, with its glorious, vocal-free minute-and-a-half lead-in. Like the album as a whole, “Sleeper Awake” is a slow burn, but the hooks are there, waiting in time to delicately insert themselves into a listener’s ears.
For all its allure, precision, and stylistic detours, the problem still remains that As Day Follows Night is a safe affair. Blasko’s voice, while accomplished, is too polite overall. The same could perhaps be said for someone like folk wunderkind Laura Marling, but at least her politeness has a bite of resignation about it. Sometimes, Blasko’s civility does work quite nicely, in that it imbues songs such as “I Never Knew” with a heightened level of comfort. This is ultimately what As Day Follows Night is, then: a classic comfort album offering some glorious highs before coming down to accompany your caffeine satiation.