First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2007, Volume 14, #7
Written by Nalini Persaud
Tue July 17, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
The packaging of Ari Hestís latest album The Break-In seems as if it was meant to accompany a lost fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm. The lyrics are printed in a font that mimics handwriting, and they are enjoined to black and white images of Hest, peering over his shoulder through pristine illustrations of a modern-day forest. Here, urban city streets are splashed with the colors of autumnís burning hues, and Hestís appearance gives the illusion that he is a romantic hero on a journey. The birds that are silhouetted in black make a minor reference to one of his songs (Bird Never Flies), though they also invoke a Hitchcock-like consciousness that looms in an unsettling fashion. Appropriately illustrated by Zach Johnsen, who is known for having an avid interest in exploring the dark curvature of the underbelly of the beast, The Break-Inís booklet invites fans to wade a little deeper into the whimsical affair. Be forewarned, however. You might not like what you find.
Those who are familiar with Someone to Tell, Hestís debut, may think that The Break-In is an extension of the paranoia-drenched single Theyíre On to Me, but this is true only in a literary sense of flirting with the dubious conflict between good and evil. Hestís new songs feature lyrics that are diverse in tone, feel, and arrangement. Right of Way is as excited and challenging as Bird Never Flies is light but haunting. Iíve Got You is romantically sweet, while When and If is forlorn. He broods through Leaving Her Alone, and he steps into dangerous territory on both the title track and Big Ben. Nevertheless, there remains an air of warmth and charm that disarmingly weaves through his lyrics.
Passion at the edge of reason raises its hairy paw in The Break-Inís title track, which was co-written with fellow band-mates Rob Calder and Scott Seiver. While it seems like an abrupt slant into disturbing imagery, it shouldn't have been a huge surprise, given the ominous pulsating morsel provided in Them, a song from his recent EP The Green Room Sessions. Yet, his altered approach creeps into every aspect of The Break-In, and fans canít help but to be shocked and stunned by the suddenness of his sharp, left turn. Amidst the title tuneís dissonance, Hest sings, "like a vulture seeking dead...ítil I have flown into your heart...ícause I want to break your heart." Yet, he also states, "I want to be your muse/The one who can inspire like none before." The surrounding arrangement is fittingly thick and hypnotic, and Hest's voice is studiously seductive. He toys with the object of his desire like sheís prey, and itís hard to know whether or not even he can tell the difference. Rangy, menacing rock guitar licks carry the tune off into the distance, stamping upon it a distinct impression that the story might not end well. It is a Zen riddle for which there can be no definitive answer.
Throughout The Break-In, Hest mixes í70s grooves with vocal harmonies from the late í60s, while also adding the melodic appeal of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Steely Dan. (It should be noted, too, that the latter group was equally attracted to ambiguous lyricism). Nevertheless, he misses several opportunities to carry his songs to other places, and the listener is left wanting more. Right of Way, for example, could have benefitted from having a good, raw, nothing-held-back jam session tucked into its mid-section. It is the most straightforward, dance-friendly, hook-filled tune on the set, and by Hestís own account, it is a depiction of an innocent surrender to someone elseís choices. In this case, itís having Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Bonnie Raitt) on board as producer.
Froom should be given credit for keeping Hest in check. Vocally, he doesnít reach beyond his capabilities, and the stark arrangements are used effectively to augment and complete the emotional terrain of each of The Break-Inís songs. When Hest wails "Iím so afraid" over When to Quitís drum track, he sounds like someone who is trapped in a painting by Edvard Munch. While not fully realized, perhaps, Hest is emerging as a stream-of-consciousness writer who grapples with swift jumps in the midst of his lyrics. "Opened his door to a stranger's voice/Feeling that he had no other choice" from So Slow traces an elliptical arc, while Right of Way captures an almost imperceptible slide from a direct challenge to a lost appeal.
Hest, as the apprentice, appears to have learned a thing or two from Froom, and he produced The Break-Inís final track himself. With its eloquently lilting violins, Iíve Got You boasts melodically strong, lush tones that are reminiscent of an old-time love song. The woman in question might be Norah Jones, whose debut release appears to have inspired this star-struck response. Hest apparently has never built up the nerve to ask Ms. Jones to accompany him on this treat, and so he admirably sings her part himself ó which lends a schoolyard-sweet, first-crush aura to the whole production. It is the hallmark song that his fans want when they pay for the album, and it is what they want to hear when they buy a ticket at the door to one of his concerts.
The Break-In is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box