Lori and Micah Wilshire's rise to prominence is something I have monitored with a proud sense of interest. Although the record company biography heralds Wilshire as newcomers to the industry, I have followed the duo's career since their days as a struggling indie band in Nashville after I was sent their superb independent release, Second Story to review back in 2000.
That entirely self-financed, self-produced (in their living room) and self-written album was one of the most intelligently-written pop rock releases I heard that year, and I was immediately struck by the pair's unique vocal dynamic, their outstanding songwriting ability, and the diversity of sounds they employed to produce a thoroughly modern, commercially viable pop-rock album.
New Universe may have been recorded with the assistance of producer David Tickle in studios more salubrious than their living room, but upon hearing first single "Special", it's a relief to find that essentially nothing has changed since they left Nashville and headed to L.A. determined to build a major-league career in the music industry.
Relaying feelings of everyday frustration and disillusionment, "Special" is pure radio bliss, marrying Lori's belting voice with immediate pop hooks and a production which allows Wilshire to rock out and sound pop in the same song. Quite simply, if it isn't a hit, then something is amiss with the general public's hearing. It's not the only tune on New Universe with breakout hit potential, though. "Turn It Around" develops from a delicate, haunting intro into a raucous pop-rocker with an unforgettable melody. Similarly, the funky groove of the quite brilliant "I Know What You Did" showcases Lori's voice once more and is almost as infectious as SARS.
Although it's Lori's voice with its stunning range and power which tends to stand out, the vocal interplay that was in evidence between Wilshire on Second Story still remains on tunes like "Remember", an acoustic based mid-tempo track and "Go On", a powerful, atmospheric tune which shimmers with the duo's haunting vocals.
Given the strength of the material on Second Story, it is somewhat surprising to see that only one track, "Tonight" remains from such quality material as "Fall", "Brave", "Not Alone", and "Angelina". It's a brave move, but one which pays dividends thanks to Wilshire's songwriting prowess. Still, "Tonight" is a special tune, and has hardly been re-worked from the original version, so the beautiful arrangement and melody of the song remain intact along with Lori's delicate vocal performance. Things pick up a gear on "Nothing Left to Lose", a tune written to reproach doubters who questioned the wisdom of chasing a long-held dream: "Standing on the edge of my new universe / I can't wait to jump head first / I got nothing left to lose".
Wilshire's songs are drenched in their own personal feelings and experiences, none more so than "In Your Arms", a ballad that on one level tells of the deep love between Micah and Lori, but which also oozes the assurance of a duo completely at ease with each other's immense musical talent. The sophisticated pop of "When" also demonstrates the Wilshire's musicianship, leaping from a jazzy acoustic verse to a textbook singalong chorus with satisfying ease. The piano based "Fool for You" also the Wilshire trademark of creating unorthodox pop textures with deliciously good choruses.
Not since Dido's No Angel album has pop with such an intelligent and contemporary edge arrived on the scene. In a musical climate of Britneys, Christinas, and American Idols, surely there has to be room for proper pop music such as that found on New Universe? If there is, then on the evidence of this album, Wilshire have the necessary talent, paid-their-dues commitment and strong songs to build a lengthy and successful career in the music industry. New Universe will be one of my albums of the year, without a doubt.