Album Review :
Brooke Waggoner - Originator

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Artist: Brooke Waggoner
Title: Originator
Label: EMI/Swoon Moon Music
Release Date: 3/5/13
Reviewer: Ian Harvey

1. Shiftshape
2. Rumble
3. From The Nest
4. Ink Slinger
5. Squint
6. Perish
7. Welspryng
8. Waterlogged
9. Canticle
10. Mixin’ With The Birdies
11. To Love

While I consider myself a lover of all things music, I will admit I have never been much of a pop music fan. It always feels a bit watered down musically, the lyrics are nonsensical, and the flashy package they (the music industry) wrap it doesn’t make the product any more appealing to me. Ive always said that pop is like the McDonalds for your ears; lots of people like it, but its not all that good for you in the long run. Then there are song writers like Brooke Waggoner who give me hope than pop can be so much more than style over substance. After a successful run manning the piano for Jack White, Waggoner has returned in Originator ; perhaps her finest and most well-rounded work to date.

If you are familiar with Brooke Waggoner, then you will know her style is somewhat hard to pin down. She is a classically trained pianist, has a degree in music composition and orchestration, and tends to craft all of her music using live instruments in lue of loops and electronic elements. Her songs are (obviously) piano driven, play heavy of atmosphere and have a whimsical air to them. This should also be obvious, but it is important to note that when you listening to Waggoner, know that every note of every instrument was written or arranged by her. She isnt the kind of artist to write the melody and piano then hand the rest of the music off to someone else; she takes time to make sure the strings, drums, and any other instrument present has her personal touch. Originator has all of these things we have come to expect, but this time it just feels bigger and more focused.

This being Brooke’s fifth album, you definitely get a sense that she has identified the areas in her writing that needed balance. Originator sways back and forth between big drum-driven songs like “Rumble” and “Perish”, then sinks softly into whisper filled pieces like “Welspryng” and “To Love”. No matter what tempo being played on the album, you get a sense that you are listening to a seasoned songwriter who knows exactly what she wants you hear at every moment of every song. As you progress through the tracks, you understand the strength in Waggoner’s whimsical style; she is trying to disarm you with her playfulness so you are not overwhelmed with her talent. Originator could have easily (in lesser hands) been “over-written”, filled to brim with so much that you would simple get lost in the sound. There is enough restraint here to let you breathe, and that is what makes this record so good.

The balance in the songs is what gives Originator stay power. It is an album you listen to and experience over and over agian. In all honesty I have had a hard time picking out my “favorite” song because every time I have gone back to listen to it I fall in love with another track. It may not be one that grabs you right out of the gate but it will linger long after the last notes have been played. My humble suggestion is to play it through headphones on a rainy night. Try it, you will thank me…

I met Brooke Waggoner several years ago at SXSW and was deeply impressed with her spirit and her talent. She seemed to be very confident in her ability but humble enough to want to grow. I have been a fan ever since, but I still feel that this album was what she was always headed towards. I consider Brooke Waggoner to be a pop artist (indie piano pop if we are getting technical), and I do not like pop music, but I love Brooke Waggoner. Originator is the best thing she has done yet, and could hold its own against anything on the charts today.

Overall: If you are looking for true craftsmanship and creativity in pop, Originator is the album you have been waiting for. Brooke Waggoner is a skilled and brilliant singer/songwriter, and her abilities as both are on full display here. This is the album you missed in 2013, but it wont be the one you forget.

RIYL: Fiona Apple, Regina Spector, Timbre, The Reign Of Kindo