Welcome to the next series in my ongoing restructuring of my portion of the blog. I thought Tuesday would be an appropriate day to house my music reviews, since it’s the day when new music releases, and also I can make a nice alliterative title (you could say I’m from the Stan Lee school of naming things). I suppose I could have called it “Tunesday” but I dunno, it doesn’t have the same ring to it, for me.
I have to admit, I have a probably unhealthy obsession with Nalani & Sarina. Like, I think I’m actually addicted to their music. As of this writing, I’ve been to their past five shows in Manhattan and since September they’ve accounted for the bulk of my listening on Spotify, iTunes, and my iPod. I’ve had days where I’ve looped them for the whole day at work (perks of being in the back room, you get to listen to your own music). So when I say “obsession,” I’m not exaggerating. But I think it’s warranted. Their music is phenomenal, they’re probably the best performers I’ve ever seen — and I’ve seen some pretty great concerts, so that’s really saying something — and they’re probably the sweetest people you could ever meet. I’ve written about them before in a sort of general overview, and I highly recommended listening to them. That still stands, but I’d like to add to that a very strong recommendation to catch a show if you can. It’s definitely worth it. Cover charge at The Bitter End is only ten dollars, plus the two drink minimum, which still puts you at a cheaper night than many concerts, and when I saw them at Rockwood it was free and there was no minimum. So, you know, you should be going.
Anyway, I thought it was high time to properly review their album and EP (that one is next week), and what better way to start out the new series?
In the interest of cutting my potential ravings a bit short I’m going to jump straight to the breakdown, because that’s everyone’s favorite part of my posts, right? Right? I’ll try to keep it shorter than usual, there are fourteen tracks, after all.
- “Raw Sugar” — I mean, you couldn’t really have a better opening track. That first guitar chord is about as perfect as you can get to kick off an album. It’s a fun, upbeat track, and gives a pretty great overview of what they’re about as a band. The piano isn’t as prominent here as in some of their other songs, but it works pretty damn well to accent the guitars.
- “There I Go (Don’t Know Me)” — If I had to describe this one, which I guess as a reviewer I do, I’d say it’s a sort of rock/hip-hop fusion. The verses bounce along with some pretty great piano riffs, and the chorus is powerful. I feel like it’s a song that can really describe how we’ve all felt at some point or another — being judged as something we aren’t is a pretty universal experience. It’s a powerful reminder that it’s more important to stay true to yourself than conforming to what others believe you to be, and it’s a current that runs through a lot of their work.
- “Masha’s Song” — I like that this is a post breakup song about someone who isn’t the first-person narrator. It’s a comfortable medium — not a hard-hitting rock song, but also not a slow downbeat song. And it’s hopeful, offering a light in the darkness of the post-relationship depression. I feel like they really nail the experience of being the person who comforts someone who just got out of a relationship. The imagery in the first verse is particularly good.
- “Hung Up” — The horns really make this one. It’s a really fun, non-traditional love song — that is, it’s not all sappy, but really actually defiant, since it’s about being involved with a guy who others don’t approve of. I’m also a fan of the drums on this one, it’s always fun to hear rhythms that aren’t just the same old back beat. Also of note, the word “love” is never used in the song. It’s not like it’s not an appropriate word, but so very many songs use it, and there are so many ways you can write about things. It’s refreshing to see something truly original.
- “Scars” — This is one of my favorite tracks. Something about the melody and lyrics really grabbed me. I like the theme of a relationship helping to heal the wounds of the past; I could probably be described as a bit of a hopeless romantic, so it’s natural that this would appeal to me. I guess you could probably consider it all a little trite but I don’t get that feeling.
- “Balloons” — I’m not sure how to describe this one. It’s an absolutely beautiful track, even more so when they do it in concert. It just has some quality that eludes classification. It really has to be heard, I think, to be understood. Probably one of the most powerful tracks on the album.
- “Bittersweet” — I think we often have this preconceived notion that music about relationships falls into a few predefined categories: loving someone who doesn’t know or reciprocate; being in love with someone; breaking up or being broken up with; “someone done me wrong;” and “I’m over you, fuck off.” It’s not often we hear tracks that fall outside these categories — like this one. It’s really about being in… well, personally I’d think of it as an unhealthy relationship, but I don’t want to assume that that was the intent here. But a relationship that’s less than loving but still somehow has a magnetism. Whether that’s good or bad for you personally isn’t my call, but the song is definitely good.
- “Cliché” — I write the word “cliché” so often that I should really just have a key for the “é.” Maybe I should look into peripherals I could plug in and have custom keys like that. But I digress. Like, a lot. Anyway, this is a fun song, one of the two on the album that have ukulele. What’s great about it is that it’s a song about a relationship NOT being cliché… which is discussed with every cliché in the book. Maybe that doesn’t appeal to everyone, but the writer in me finds great pleasure in this.
- “Should’ve Known Better” — Finally reaching that point where you can say “this isn’t what I want or need” can certainly be a reason to sing. It’s a bittersweet song, no pun intended, and even if we can’t all related to the exact situation I think we’ve all at some point had the same feelings of finally seeing the reality around us and making the choice to change our circumstances.
- “Start All Over” — I suppose there couldn’t really be a better song to follow “Should’ve Known Better.” Getting hurt and getting out, and then starting something new and happy? Feels like a natural progression to me. This is a fun song, one I think I’m often guilty of underrating. I always really like it when I listen to it, but don’t automatically think of it as one of my favorites, and I’m not really sure why. I think it’s just because there are so many good songs I can’t remember all of them? Or maybe this one just doesn’t quite speak to me the same way? I don’t know.
- “In the Eye” — If I were forced at gunpoint to say there was a “weak” track on the album, I suppose this would be it. That’s really not to say that it’s not a solid track, by any means, and it’s most definitely grown on me. From an analytical standpoint it’s just as good as anything else on the album. But I guess what gets me is that it’s a slow, sad song, and in looking at it lyrically I can’t really relate to it totally. Some parts, I suppose, but I don’t think you can really pick and choose what pieces of a song you relate to, because you need to look at it all in context. At least, from my perspective. Certainly other people will feel differently, but this one doesn’t quite do it for me.
- “Please Don’t Stop the Rain” — I’ll admit right now that I’m biased here. This is absolutely my favorite Nalani & Sarina song. How much so, you ask? Enough that I put it into Chordify to get the ukulele chords for it. Now I know for a fact from watching her at shows that I’m not using the exact same chords as Nalani (at the very least not the same fingerings) but since I barely qualify as an amateur ukulele player and don’t have anywhere near the skill to figure it out from watching, it sounds like the recording and that works for me. I honestly can’t even put into words why I love this song so much, I just do. I don’t know what I can say about it without overselling, so I’ll just say you should go listen to it. If you only listen to one song off the album (which I hope isn’t the case, go listen to the whole thing!), let it be this one.
- “White Dove” — I kind of consider this the last track on the album, which I’ll explain in a moment, and it works perfectly for that. It’s also my second favorite. It’s such a beautiful song, and the piano is fantastic. I can’t recall hearing a piano melody that feels quite like this one. As someone who’s spent so many years struggling with mental illness, this song resonates with me on a way few other songs can. It’s a powerful message of hope that doesn’t invalidate one’s emotions in times that seem hopeless. I think that’s a message we could all use a little bit more of.
- “Get Away (Live in the Studio)” — This one is technically the last track, but I’ve always considered it more of a bonus track (and only just this moment realized that it actually is listed as a bonus track, so I wasn’t just thinking that to myself; maybe I knew that and didn’t realize I knew it). This song actually appears with the full band on their follow-up EP, Scattered World, which I’ll address next week, but this version is an acoustic recording with just the two of them. I’m not 100% positive but I think this version is a little bit faster than the EP version, which is impressive as hell, because there are a lot of words crammed into a small space. This one is really where I can kind of feel a little hip-hop influence, though again I’m only going on what I’m hearing so this might not be the case for them. But it almost feels like slam poetry. It’s definitely a fun song, though, and I’ll address it more next time when I get to the full band version.
So there you have it. Hopefully this has been somewhat enlightening when it comes to why I’m so in love with Nalani & Sarina’s music. If not, then you probably just haven’t listened to it yet and you should go do that. While you’re at it, have some links:
Nalani & Sarina:
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