Vanessa Carlton
Hear the Bells


3.0
good

Review

by Irving Tan STAFF
November 22nd, 2011 | 22 replies | 6,347 views


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Down the rabbit hole once more.

A Vanessa Carlton Christmas-themed EP doesn’t sound like a very exciting prospect, does it? But unlike the majority of the other excessively vanilla female singer-songwriter acts currently strewn all over the Billboard Hot 100, Carlton has at least demonstrated some artistic initiative and a rare desire for self-reinvention in recent times. Her fourth studio album Rabbits on the Run, released earlier this year, saw her aim for a sound inspired by – are you ready for this – Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time and Richard Adams's Watership Down. While marrying neutron star collisions and fluffy bunny rabbits is as hackneyed a concept as it reads on paper, in deliberately cutting her songs direct to tape and recruiting a tight-knit team of collaborators – renowned record producer Steve Osborne, The Upwelling guitarist Ari Ingber, and My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan among them – Carlton inched herself closer to the kind of thoughtful ornamentation and lush creativity that so often precedes key moments of individual distinction.

But while she still sounds closer to Alanis Morissette than say, Sufjan Stevens, the dreamy and fantastical air of Rabbits on the Run was still a happy development overall, chiefly because for the first time in over half a decade, Carlton actually sounded sincere. Rabbits on the Run's follow-up – the rather mundanely titled Hear the Bells EP – isn’t exactly the next episode in Carlton’s tale of musical growth, but it still gives us something of significant substance to chew over. The brief compendium opens with a reworking of Noël Regney’s and Gloria Shayne Baker’s 1962 Christmas tune “Do You Hear What I Hear”, which is, plainly, a superb decision, as the number’s thoughtful and dreamy tones find themselves jiving perfectly with Carlton’s newfound musical direction. Regney’s desperate plea for peace, originally written amidst the trying times of the Cuban Missile Crisis, is made timeless once again as it nudges right up to a set of simple acoustic swells; it’s unfortunate that the children’s choir makes a slightly-too-precise appearance towards the midsection of the track, giving the entire affair a bit of a perfunctory air.

Elsewhere, Rabbits on the Run stalwart “Hear the Bells” is given a proper makeover: the song is driven by a pulsating, almost temperamental piano riff, and Carlton herself sounds like she’s in the middle of a séance: “Hear the bells, hear the bells,” she insists in a sordidly deadpan tone. Her vague Victorian musings about death, witchdoctors, and stomachaches – already so effective and poignant on Rabbits on the Run – are pulled into their definitive form here on this EP. Unfortunately, the same plaudits simply cannot be granted to the remainder of the EP. Carlton’s cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” is third rate at best, and the acoustic remake of the hugely-overplayed “A Thousand Miles” is not only thoroughly unnecessary, but is also a grim reminder of how soulless Carlton’s pieces can be. To put it very simply: Carlton sounds a lot more convincing when she’s not brandishing her music school chops.

Even though it has been plainly marketed otherwise, the Hear the Bells EP doesn’t really feel like a Christmas-themed release: it’s too brief to spread much of a festive feel and Carlton honestly comes across more easily as an opportunistic composer seeking to exhibit more of that Rabbits on the Run sound than a Santa Claus incarnate. But don’t let that deter you, for this small collection of songs just about manages to stay on the right side of acceptable – even if its latter half is too unapologetically piano pop to appeal to auditory voyeurs and tastemakers.



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user ratings (2)
Chart.
3.5
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Irving
Staff Reviewer
November 22nd 2011



7136 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Reviewing from the middle of the South China Sea, like a boss.

Xenophanes
Emeritus
November 22nd 2011



10585 Comments


Reviewing from the middle of the South China Sea, like a boss.



You're like a super hero to me : 3



Digging: United Nations - The Next Four Years

Xenophanes
Emeritus
November 22nd 2011



10585 Comments


I was really wondering if you would review this. Glad you did, because it's solid as always.

pizzamachine
November 22nd 2011



12571 Comments


Ving my man, those sentences are ridiculously looooong. Good review though.

FromDaHood
Contributing Reviewer
November 22nd 2011



9033 Comments


Only 4 songs? Bleh. I'll probably download anyway given my recent 2000's radio kick

RosaParks
November 22nd 2011



14592 Comments


http://sputnikmusic.com/review/46666
review/46666
46666
666

Irving
Staff Reviewer
November 22nd 2011



7136 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Hey that's cool! So I guess that means I'm basically The Beast incarnate?

Also - lovin' the unexplained neg.

Zettel
November 22nd 2011



582 Comments


I am impressed that you managed to write four paragraphs for a four track EP. Seriously, I could not do that. You are scary.

toxin.
November 22nd 2011



12001 Comments


if i could fall into the sky

Irving
Staff Reviewer
November 23rd 2011



7136 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Do you think time would pass me by.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
November 23rd 2011



7136 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

The negs! They be disappearin'! o.O

SarahEliz
November 23rd 2011



1 Comments


You people do realize that it's an EP and she's allowed to put out 4 songs? And you do realize that Vanessa isn't even take big into Christmas.. she's actually Jewish.. or doing ordinary things with music?

FromDaHood
Contributing Reviewer
November 23rd 2011



9033 Comments


White boyz

Irving
Staff Reviewer
November 23rd 2011



7136 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

You people do realize that it's an EP and she's allowed to put out 4 songs?

...no one was arguing otherwise...?

nd you do realize that Vanessa isn't even take big into Christmas.. she's actually Jewish

Why is this an issue all of a sudden? I merely said that the EP didn't have much of a Christmassy feel, even though it has two blatantly Christmas-themed songs.

or doing ordinary things with music?

LMAO. Listen to more music, hun.

Tyrael
November 23rd 2011



20721 Comments


An amazing Irving review once again

Irving
Staff Reviewer
November 23rd 2011



7136 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Haha, I wouldn't call this amazing writing Ty - far from it, in fact - but the sentiment is much appreciated =)

Tyrael
November 23rd 2011



20721 Comments


I like it so it's amazing dammit don't make me quit my nice guy role just to prove my point... Please.

Tyrael
November 23rd 2011



20721 Comments


does it matter

Gyromania
November 23rd 2011



15165 Comments


Brilliantly articulated review, Irv. I think I'll avoid this release, lol. Pos!

Irving
Staff Reviewer
November 24th 2011



7136 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Thanks muchly Gyro =)



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