When you think Air (the band), you think ethereal, progressive, limitless. That is why Beth Hirsch was enlisted by the band to sing on their album, Moon Safari. She has the same light touch that Air created. It is so enveloping but not intrusive. This is what makes this, her second CD, Titles & Idols, one of the best buys you'll ever make.
She is constantly compared to Beth Orton, Sarah McLachlan, and Joni Mitchell, and while this is all true, it isn't sufficient. This is why music reviews prove so difficult. With Beth, you really need to experience her, because it truly is an "experience".
"Let it Live (beatless)", the first song, is ethereal. A touch of guitar, but mostly just Beth. It is spare and leaves you wanting more. Whispers of programming intrigue the senses. It sounds like a last song. Can't wait to hear more. "I Know Why" is Shawn Colvin-y, folkish. She sounds like Joni Mitchell during some phrases. Folky not in the 1960 manner but in the 2001 manner -- moments of Sarah McLachlan, still spare, no harsh edges. The drums and programming are very progressive, which makes me think the folk label just doesn't do.
Titles & Idols is perfect background music for the generation that is throwing dinner parties amid stainless steel fridges, have Olive and Esthero in their CD collections and are still cool and brave enough to wear vintage in the myriad of Donna, Ralph, and Gianni. It is not quite lounge but just somethin', somethin' (thank you, Maxwell) to keep the ear pleasantly occupied.
"Titles & Idols", the CD namesake, is aptly chosen. It is a beautiful song that is just enough. Don't you ever tire of the "too much" sounds of today -- too hard, too loud, too brazen? Beth sings just enough. It is the every occasion, everyday song that will constantly delight you.
"Nest Sensation (album version)" has the most amazing programming (very Air). It verges on techno and sounds like what Madonna tried to do with "Music" in terms of progression and mixing. "Until I Met You" is lullabye-ish and entrancing. It is here that I see what Dido set out to do, but failed miserably. While Dido may have stepped into the spotlight, her music and voice have left much to be desired. She has, however, allowed that space to open for singer -- songwriters such as Beth, to leap through labels and categorizations and just allow the music and the voice be heard.
"Ordinary Life" has the melancholy feel that enshrouds Toad the Wet Sprocket, Duncan Shiek, Olive, Dishwalla, and Jeff Buckley. This is like Madonna's "This Used to Be My Playground", but so much fuller and richer. When Madonna took brother-in-law Joe Henry's song, "Stop", this is what she was striving for. However, Beth has taken her own song and made it into something original. Pay attenton, Material Girl.
Beth's voice is pleasant and warm, but not extraordinary. She sings extraordinary notes and does lovely improvs between lyrics, but it is not the "stop what you are doing, can you believe this voice" kind of talent. But that is what makes this CD so brilliant. Beth sings and does it well. The programmers do their thing and they do it extremely well. The package is one of the best ever. Really. Truly.
"Let It Live (radical mix)" is proof of this. Some heavy guitar, a lot of beats and keyboards are programmed expertly throughout the song. Think of when U2 came out with Zooropa and what a change of sound that was. This song is one to be played over and over. As is the CD.
Titles & Idols is not extraordinary in the way that makes you stop and say, "WOW"! It is a slow force that gently tugs at your skin, your eyes, your ears. It becomes extraordinary. And you won't know it fully until you experience it. So go out and experience it. Because there is no good reason not to.