Sydney Wayser - Bell Choir Coast Review
Posted by C.A. Bell on 06.21.2012
Sydney Wayser has returned with her third studio album. But how does it stack up? 411's Chris Bell checks in with his full review!
Before walking in to the Riot Room for a Blitzen Trapper show a few weeks ago, I had no idea who Sydney Wayser was. Within two minutes of her opening performance that night, I was hopelessly in love. Her performance was engaged, delicate, funny, and downright endearing. That's a lot to do in a sleazy, black box rock club. Bell Choir Coast is Sydney's third LP and finds the artist with a complete, youthful voice. Sydney plays more from feel than precision, a welcome change from the spacier indie singer-songwriters I typically have to wade through.
Sydney Wayser is a bit of an anomaly to me. To be honest, I'm still not sure her upbringing isn't closer to a fictional character than a real person. Growing up in California, Wayser would summer in France. While there she learned to love both the French pop of Jacques Brel and Charlotte Gainsbourg and American alternative of Jeff Buckley. As an adult, she has relocated to Brooklyn Heights. Having spent more than a little time on both coasts, I find this relocation fascinating. Sydney's music hardly reminds one of the bustling subway on a cold, overcast Brooklyn day. In fact, Wayser has admitted that the album's title is itself a flight of fancy; a fictional isle to at least help her mind escape the urban prisons of New York. The music is exemplar of that kind of hope and joy that Joey Ramone would have been embarrassed revealing to his bandmates. Sydney's rich, emotionally accessible music seems to pay more homage to those idyllic beginnings than it does her current day Brooklyn surroundings. A friend attending the show with me actually labeled Wayser the "Woo-A-Hoo" girl, based on the regular presence of non-verbal cooing. It made me coo anyway.
It would be easy for one to immediately hear Sydney Wayser's soft vocal style and pop oriented hooks and draw lines between her and other contemporary female artists like Regina Spektor or Norah Jones. I actually think her closest musical soul is M. Ward. Wayser's lyrics match a nice sense of humor with the jaunty arrangements, best visible on tracks like "Wolf Eyes" and "Potions". I've amused myself by thinking about these songs as direct responses to some of Ward's best work. The obligatory presence of the ukulele on "This One Goes Out To Ethan Hawke" actually works wonders in line with Wayser's voice. There are some experiments about from this sound ("Wake Up" almost sounds like a Syd Barrett ballad), I think the bread and butter songs actually work best. My most serious complaint with Bell Choir Coast is with its post-modern production. I've seen Wayser live. I know for a fact that she has a beautiful voice. There is absolutely no reason to have it fighting for space in the mix with anything going on instrumentally here. Wayswer's voice is her strongest weapon, and I get a little upset when it sounds slightly hidden by the mix or studio filters. Put her in front of a microphone with a piano and hit record. That's all you have to do. It is clear that she understands the world of interests one can create with subtlety. Take away the background noise and let her do it.
Of course, that complaint is really a bit of praise. I can tell Sydney Wayswer is an artist that has a lot to say and an interesting way to say it. I'm downright excited in seeing her shake off comparisons to other musicians and be the person other artists 'sound like'. Until then, I'll be more than happy to live with the songs on Bell Choir Coast. One could certainly do a lot worse. At the very least, it will give me something to woo-a-hoo along with for a good long while.