Vanessa Carlton is one of the most tragically underappreciated singer-songwriters of the early 21st century. We have all heard her early aughts mega hit “A Thousand Miles” while shopping for toothpaste at the grocery store, or while waiting in doctor’s offices, but her post “A Thousand Miles” output has not reached nearly as many people as it deserves to. While her debut album Be Not Nobody is a perfectly pleasant, if grammatically confusing, piece of pop music, her sophomore follow up Harmonium showed Carlton really finding her own sound and embracing her gifts as a songwriter.
In spite of the insanely catchy single “White Houses”, Harmonium didn’t enjoy the commercial success of its predecessor. Millennials may not remember this, but back in the old days there were these things called ‘Major Labels’ whose job it was to convince musicians that they were going to be rock stars and then rob them blind before casting them, broken and humiliated, to the wayside. Vanessa Carlton was on one of these ‘Major Labels’ and when Harmonium did not sell bazillions of copies like Be Not Nobody, her future as the next Britney Spears, or Michelle Branch, or whatever the plan was, pretty much fizzled out.
Since that time, Carlton has gone from creative strength to creative strength in spite of, or perhaps because of, her lack of major label support. 2007’s Heroes & Thieves was packed wall-to-wall with catchy, emotional songs. 2011’s Rabbits on the Run was a dark, dreamy record that displayed a vaguely dream-pop-like sound. Although on first listen, Rabbits on the Run feels like a departure from her earlier material, it was really a shift in style rather than substance, as the songs on Rabbits on the Run were the same evocative, confessional songs that Carlton had been writing since Harmonium.
That brings us to Carlton’s new record Liberman. Although the record’s name conjures up unpleasant, vague associations with former United States Senator Joseph Lieberman, the record itself is one of the strongest and most consistent of Carlton’s career. Liberman continues further into the reverb laden, dream-pop direction of Rabbits on the Run. At times, Liberman reminds the listener slightly of Nordic dream-pop enthusiasts like the Radio Dept. or Delay Trees, although Carlton never approaches the more noisy excursions of the former.
Liberman’s ten tracks whip by, each track filled with sweet, well-timed melodies and haunting atmosphere. It is over before you know it, compelling the listener to repeated, often back-to-back listens. Opener “Take It Easy” begins with a throbbing, almost danceable rhythmic pulse that would not sound out of place on one of the ‘Italians Do It Better’ records. While this sound is kind of new territory for Carlton, it works really well for the song and anyone who listened carefully to Rabbits on the Run will not be surprised by it. Mid-album highlight “Nothing Where Something Used to Be” also employs the rhythmic sensibility observed on “Take It Easy” while also displaying the lovely vocal melodies that have always been one Carlton’s greatest strengths as an artist.
Throughout its ten consistent tracks Liberman proves itself to be a mature, developed version of Vanessa Carlton that still retains those qualities that made Harmonium so enjoyable. With any luck, Liberman will earn her some larger venues, bigger tours, and new fans. The age in which someone like Vanessa Carlton can release platinum selling albums is probably gone for good, but records as strong as Liberman deserve as large of an audience as the world can muster in these strange, dystopian times of ours.