Elizabeth & The Catapult
2009 | Verve Forecast
It’s inspiring to think that a group of three friends in a basement with Pro Tools can pick a catchy band name, get a Twitter account, and eventually, a record deal with Verve. And on another, more hedonistic level, it’s inspiring that said three friends can go on to hear their album’s first track played ad nauseum in Victoria’s Secret dressing rooms nationwide. No, this isn’t a CMJ Cinderella story; it’s what actually happened to Elizabeth Ziman, Danny Molad and Peter Lalish of Elizabeth & The Catapult. Their debut full-length Taller Children is a whirlwind of hop-scotch pop, sassy girl-power marches, and sexy lounge grooves. At best, the more insightful ballads are downright moving; at worst, the overly-tampered-with tracks could be underscoring a Jennifer-Aniston-is-feeling-great-today montage in Love Happens.
To her credit, Frontwoman Elizabeth Ziman has a wide range of influences – Aimee Mann, Shawn Colvin, Imogen Heap, Fiona Apple, Goapele – and she manages to write without aping. Her unfiltered, cool-as-ice vocals and sweet, honest delivery are a breath of fresh air among elaborate orchestrations and drum gimmicks. Mike Mogis, a Saddle Creek staple and collaborator with Bright Eyes, The Faint, M. Ward, and Jenny Lewis, among others, helped The Catapult usher their barebones compositions into the studio stratosphere. At times, the kernel of Ziman’s initial ideas becomes hard to find in an overly-harvested field. At others, Mogis’s production is a much needed life raft on the rapids. For example, take “Right Next To You”: through it’s duration, it shows no interesting melodies or variations, and Ziman manages to co-opt and plunder one of the greatest opening lines in the history of pop music (“I read the news today, oh boy/ What a time this is”). Yet due to its cohesively voiced soundscape, the song is definitely one of the album’s most listenable tracks, and a testament to Mogis’s ear and Ziman’s skill as an arranger.
Songs like “Momma’s Boy” and “Complimentary Me” have their moments as well – hum-along, addictive melodies, quaint, fancypants guitar riffs by Lalish, and scatterbrain percussive effects. If it weren’t for the under-revised rhyme schemes and seemingly uninspired lyrics, these two would be quasi-pop masterpieces. Generally though, in terms of shifting moods, themes, and quality, it’s a hit-or-miss album; just keep in mind that when listening to Taller Children, it’s probably best to ignore the cheeky, almost unrecognizable Leonard Cohen cover (“Everybody Knows”) and skip to the poignant, aching, sparsely penned love songs. “Just In Time” is one of those rare piano ballads, so pale melodically and so rich sonically, it almost redeems every compositional foible previously endured. Ziman finally indulges her piano playing, and to much avail: through simple Satie-like chords and gentle, literal vocals, the song reveals the utterly indescribable sorrow, light, and ecstasy of true love.
Elizabeth & The Catapult are touring the East coast throughout the Fall, but try to catch them at Joe’s Pub on October 6th. Allegedly, it’s a fun live show. Check out our pictures of them playing Southpaw back in May.
by Drew Citron