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A Fine Frenzy: “One Cell in the Sea” whips fans into a “Frenzy”

James Costa | Monday, December 3, 2007

While sitting around late in the evening a few days ago and watching the end of “Last Call with Carson Daly,” I caught a bit of A Fine Frenzy’s performance of its new song, “Almost Lover.” Intrigued, I stopped by a local music store the next day to pick up its album “One Cell in the Sea.” After a few listens, it is clear that the band’s name is a bit misleading. First of all, the name is actually just the stage name of Alison Sudol. In all of the songs on the album, she uses her powerful vocals and piano skills to construct songs of aching and seductive beauty.

As Sudol’s debut album, “One Cell in the Sea” incorporates many fresh and subtle themes from her life, such as her parents’ divorce and the breakdown of various relationships, to produce hauntingly moving songs.

While most of the songs stay hushed and low key, a few pick up the rhythm and keep the album safe from the danger of being too depressing. Two in particular, “You Picked Me” and “Hope for the Hopeless,” incorporate sweeping orchestrations and swift arrangements to keep the listener from drifting into a sad and depressed stupor from all the heartbreak songs. With the inclusions of the upbeat piano and string sections, these poignantly buoyant songs add an almost ethereal element to the album, making it interesting for the listener to ponder.

Perhaps the most fascinating element of the album is its Alice in Wonderland appeal. There are all the colors and wonders of Alice, coupled with the mature and confused insight into love and experience that Alice always seemed to somehow hold deep within her soul.

The album’s bleakest and most haunting point is reached in the track “Almost Lover.” It is a song about a relationship that was not to be and is now far gone from its happiest moments. You can sense that Sudol is sensitive to the hurt inflicted by the inaccessibility of love, however, it is somehow clear that while she is sensitive she is not vulnerable. Indeed, her remarkable confidence as a woman and an artist flows through each note and word. Of course, the song is only powerful because it so truly embodies the fullest moments of human heartbreak. Yet the heartbreak is only as much as heartbreak can be; it is not a song of obsessive desperation. She is heartbroken at what could not be, yet she is not obsessed with what will not be.

Indeed, like experienced in “Almost Lover,” many of the album’s tracks contain a trace of resignation that is trumped by Sudol’s stirring vow to herself to rise above the sadness and move on – a bit bruised, not broken – to something unseen yet beautiful nonetheless. The vocals are clear, powerful, and stunningly beautiful. With the piano and accompanying orchestrations, Sudol constructs some of the most gorgeous songs being produced today.

Sure, Sudol sings a few songs that border on overly sappy and melodramatic. But really, what can you expect from the debut album of a girl who has so much to sing about and with so much emotion? Nothing much different at all. What she does, she does well. Plus, she’s been designated by VH1 as a “You Oughta Know” artist.

Her new tour will be announced pretty soon, so be sure to check her out and when she might be visiting a venue near you. It’ll be worth it.