Since Liz Phair has gone the way of sell-out-pop-tart, women are back to square one with finding a strong female with the same “fuck off” attitude as Phair had once given them. Along with a number of other new female artists, Rachael Yamagata is being thrust into the spotlight as the replacement for what was once had.
Happenstance, her debut full length, is soft, silky and sexy. Yamagata’s voice is as pure as it is easy. It is almost as if she is talking to you, luring you into her music. Yes, it leans to pop arrangements at times, but for every time it hits sugar high, it strikes a deeper chord with a more mournful moment.
On “Letter Read” it reminds one of Fiona Apple when she first arrived. It has that same frustrated aura that Apple gave. Don’t let that sway what this album is though. “1963” is one of the happier songs of the album. It does have a sweet, loving message with it; but instead of just an overwhelming sense of young love, it actually has something decent behind it. The lyrics are smart in this approach to romance (“Find the words you sing to me / Sweeter than the words of the bird in the sky”), and there isn’t a bittersweet taste left after hearing the song (as with too many others out in the field today). In complete contrast with what has been cast by the media, Yamagata has a sultry jazz influenced sound to her music. There isn’t a tough exterior to her songs; it is simply Yamagata offering only what she has. The piano playing in addition to that is bound to draw comparisons to Norah Jones, but they aren’t similar. Yamagata actually wrote all of her material while exuding unmatched emotion in these songs, instead of leaving them as mere interpretations.
There are the sad moments, the happy moments, and the hateful moments on Happenstance. But what else can really be expected? First albums are usually the time to recap an artists’ life so far. Yamagata made the right move in sticking with what she knows; avoiding an attempt at mass appeal. She’s not going to be a Liz Phair. She’s not going to be a Britney Spears, a Norah Jones, or anything of the sort. Yamagata is going to be herself. That individuality makes this album worth a listen. Even if you don’t like the idea of what type of music it is, she deserves credit for not giving in to wanting to be a celebrity.