A Fine Frenzy

One Cell in the Sea

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AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown

After a relative dearth of female singer/songwriters (this was, of course, following the outpouring of them during the late-'90s Lilith Fair craze), women started making their way back into the limelight during the early 21st century. Artists like Michelle Branch and KT Tunstall -- even Avril Lavigne and Ashlee Simpson -- found success with their clean, sentimental poppy songs, and young Alison Sudol follows in this direction, even if she claims to have been influenced by Radiohead and Sigur Rós rather than Sarah McLachlan or Paula Cole. The truth is, Sudol, who chooses to go by the name A Fine Frenzy here, is much closer to the adult alternative sounds of radio-friendly rock than anything bordering on experimental. A self-taught pianist, she makes her way through the 14 songs on her debut, One Cell in the Sea, with a kind of laboriousness that distracts from her sweet soprano and tales of love and friendship. Sudol is a decent lyricist -- her main weakness is that she tries much too hard to be profound or interesting -- but her heavily affected piano, guitars, and strings force a kind of poignancy into the songs that hurts any kind of actual power they originally had (the last track on the record, "Borrowed Time," which employs an acoustic guitar instead, displays Sudol's voice and songwriting abilities infinitely better). But worst of all, and probably what makes all this stand out so much, is that the songs on One Cell in the Sea are not distinct, with melodies that go nowhere and choruses that blend into one another. The whole thing is an hour-long exercise in arpeggios and natural imagery ("I know that we're different/But we were one cell in the sea in the beginning.../We're not that different after all," Sudol coos in "The Minnow and the Trout"), hanging on for too long to Coldplay-esque rises and falls that do nothing, never capture the emotion that Chris Martin harnesses. She certainly tries hard, and nothing ever comes out awfully, but she never takes off, never does anything truly memorable, and so despite her attempts, A Fine Frenzy ends up being unremarkably dull.

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