18 February, 2014 in Music Reviews
Hillary Barleaux recalls a time when ‘Dawson’s Creek’ dominated TV screens and the world’s airwaves were thick with piano-led alt-rock
or some success comes quickly, almost too easily. It’s a story that’s been read many a time: with barely a song to call their own, an artist breaks into the mainstream and sees their spirit broken by a frenzied attempt to claw a follow-up from their songwriting canon. Not so for Brooklyn songwriter Hillary Barleaux. Barleaux’s self-titled debut album is the product of an eight-year journey as a songwriter and this measured development shows in the album’s nine tracks.
Opener Promise To Never will already be known to the keen fan, having seen a single release at the end of 2013. It serves as a fitting introduction to Barleaux’s piano-driven songwriting style, one whose teasing familiarity is in its kinship to the comfortably edgy piano alt-rock that populated the mid to late nineties. Indeed, listen carefully and you’ll hear hints of Radiohead’s Talk Show Host, a song that found its home on the soundtrack of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet.
That film became notable for its ‘coming of age’ quality and, given the passage of time it’s liable to induce a knowing smile in those who came of age around the time of its release. This is the shining quality of Barleaux’s songwriting and Alanis Morrisette-esque vocal delivery. Songs like Paint with its similarity to REM’s Nightswimming, and East which sounds like the sister of Blind Melon’s brilliant Change, remind you of the sense of possibility that you felt upon discovering music that provided a means of helping to figure out the muddled world you inhabited.
Though Barleaux’s songwriting bears such a strong 90s quality, as if a photo of James Van Der Beek sits atop her piano, it never feels as though it’s aping itself. Rather it feels that this is the logical end-point at which those eight years of songwriting development have left Barleaux.
For those who were born when Romeo & Juliet was released, Hillary Barleaux comes at the perfect time. For those whose memory of 1996 is coated in a sepia tone, it’s a wonderful reminder of the time when music helped you to make sense of life.
Verdict: Evokes the spirit of the mid-nineties