There’s been some hardcore marring of the label “female singer/songwriter” as of late, thanks to the glut of childproofed pop/rock radio filler from Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton, Avril Lavigne, etc. Rachael Yamagata is photogenic enough to fall in with this crowd, but she’s taken a slightly more dignified, intimate and jazzier path — similar to a techno-less Beth Orton.
“The Reason Why” and “Would You Please” are the EP’s two standout tracks mainly because they feature minimized arrangements. Yamagata’s strength is in keeping things simple and unadorned. This is confirmed on the death rattle drum machine and eternally tired D-A-B-G chord progression of “Worn Me Down.” This song is complete club pandering, and it should have been dismissed before entering the studio.
As far as her voice goes, Yamagata has many of the requisite “outsider” tones: Orton’s husky cry, McLachlan’s ethereal lilt and, oddly enough, Chris Martin’s (of Coldplay) octave shifting. At times this aspect of Yamagata’s voice oversteps her capabilities and sounds forced, but for the most part it’s pretty pleasant.
I’ll be interested to hear if Yamagata’s first full-length stays the course set by this EP or opts for the easy way out via alt-pop redux. I’m not so smitten with her that I would mourn losing her to the other side, but we don’t really need any more pop casualties, do we?