Simply Charming Piano Pop
“Happy Pop,” the opener to Elizabeth & the Catapults’ latest record, Like It Never Happened, sounds just like its title suggests, but pianist and singer-songwriter Elizabeth Ziman is being ironic. “Here’s my happy pop song,” she sings sardonically. “I think I wrote it in my sleep.” She leads with a simple chord progression, never playing more than one note at a time, but layers of bright piano flourishes, pretty Beach Boy-style oh’s and ah’s, and sweetly sustained strings bring depth to the simplicity. This style of minimalistic piano pop, so hung up on love, is what makes this album so likable from track to track.
Like 2009‘s Taller Children, the new record showcases Ziman’s classical training and the jazz sensibilities she developed playing with the likes of Esperanza Spalding. The depraved love song “Sugared Poison,” which is either about love or drugs, if not both, displays her remarkable range. She plays punchily like Elton John on “Bennie and the Jets,” dissonantly like Thelonius Monk and Tom Waits, and, at times, as eloquently as Bach. Despite the album’s piano-centricity, we do find Ziman occasionally leaving the ivory for an acoustic guitar on songs like “Someday Soon” and the title track, which joins minor-key strumming with vocals pleasantly reminiscent of Chrissie Hynde’s wavering wail.
Not every track is upbeat. If you love the intimacy which singer/songwriters like Fiona Apple, Sarah McLachlan and Regina Spector bring to the solitary piano bench, you’ll love “True Love Will Find You In The End” and “Last Opus.” Likewise, “Salt of the Earth” is moody and atmospheric enough to balance the album on a scale between happy pop and sad pop, if you will.
Like It Never Happened is consistently lush, simple and relatable. On the whole, it feels whole. This is Ziman’s show. But there are brief but poignant moments of cliché. “Please Yourself,” for instance, opens with Ziman’s characteristic piano chops and sumptuous voice. Then comes the chorus, which sounds more like Ellie Goulding than Elizabeth & the Catapult. The clear and crisp sound is suddenly zoned out by special effects. The bass and percussion turn sleekly modernistic. Ziman insists on repeating herself like a skipping CD, for no good reason–Goulding’s trademark. Why some artists feel they must repeat a word three or four times in a row is one of the great mysteries of our time. If it has anything to do with following the footsteps of other artists into the realm of great pop music, Like It Never Happened does just fine on its own path.