A Fine Frenzy

Bomb in a Birdcage

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What a difference two years can make. Alison Sudol introduced herself as a piano-playing pixie on 2007's One Cell in the Sea, stuffing her debut album with lilting vocals and fairy tale lyrics. Although that combination spawned several upbeat songs, ballads proved to be Sudol's bread and butter, and she soon found herself saddled with the unfortunate task of re-creating the album's intimacy in a live concert setting. Two years after Sea's release, Sudol returns with a second record, having taken a lesson from the road and fine-tuned her music accordingly. There are still several ballads here, particularly during the album's latter half, but Sudol knows that faster tunes work better in concert, where both the band and the audience can share in the same catharsis. Accordingly, Bomb in the Birdcage is a lively piece of work, with songs that take flight and arrangements that couch her vocals in tasteful heaps of strings, harmonies, and piano. A Fine Frenzy truly sounds like a band here, with guitarist David Levita leading the group on several numbers and drummer Jesse Siebenberg adding percussive nuances to one of the album's best tunes, "New Heights." Elsewhere, "What I Wouldn't Do" blends acoustic guitar and handclaps into a summery folk song, the sort of sprightly thing that's appropriate for coffeehouses and campfires alike, while "Electric Twist" flirts with the Bird and the Bee's cool, nuanced electro-pop. Sudol sounds ecstatic throughout the album, her cooing voice often giving way to delighted yelps, and Bomb in the Birdcage is a fitting display of the explosives this songbird now has in her arsenal.

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