It's always a pleasant surprise when an old favorite makes a comeback, and listeners have seen plenty of these wonders in the last several years. But what's even more special is when an underappreciated artist gets back up after a lukewarm first round and goes for another. Tal & Acacia never hit the big time with the major label-released Wake Me in 2009, but when their fans rallied around to raise the funds for a second record, Black and White became a reality nearly four years later. The best part is that it's among the worthiest of follow-ups.
In retrospect, Wake Me fits the bill as a quintessential pop album far more than Black and White. With exaggerated beats, bubbly melodies (as found in "Top Priority," "Clearview," and "Merry Go Round") and some slower tracks for good measure ("Yahweh," "Drifting Away," "Warrior Child"), Wake Me covered all the bases in a clean, polished fashion. By comparison, then, Black and White feels like a far more risky effort that exercises a "less-is-more" approach. From the start, Tal & Acacia's simmering vocals fill the ears in the short intro "Welcome" that sets the tone for the record. The album could very well be performed in a coffeeshop in its intimacy and peacefulness, unlike the forthrightness of "Top Priority" on Wake Me. "Once Upon a Time," "That's Me," and "All In All" are the most upbeat in the mix here, but even these tracks major on reserved harmonies and contained excitement that feels more matured and balanced than previously heard. The subtle bass lines and simple percussion parts keep the groove moving and alive, and it delivers with a quieter nuance that few pop albums use. Despite a less-produced approach, however, it never feels unfinished or "demo-esque" like many indie bands sometimes unwittingly demonstrate. The Kickstarter funds certainly paid off.
One of Tal & Acacia's main strengths has always been their use of vocal harmonies; even with the elementary pop nature of Wake Me, the vocal style throughout was a unique trait that kept things interesting even when the song wasn't the strongest. Instead of establishing one voice as the lead and the other as secondary, both complement each other consistently, often in unison, and this strategy is even more apparent on Black and White. It only makes lines such as "Jesus, please, I can't live without Your love/and the storms can roll over me again/but I'm not going nowhere to lose such a friend" ("Once Upon a Time") and "You say, 'I will not give you a stone when you're asking for bread/I will not leave you alone when My child is crying'" ("Stone") that much more evocative. The airy atmosphere creates plenty of room for the sisters' vocals to shimmer and make the music they create their own. "Ninety-Three" is especially evident of this effect, where the vocals become instruments themselves with carefully placed "oohs" and "ahhs" accompanying the piano in the background to personify spiritual presence. But even when only one sister carries the main load of the song ("Stone," "Hands"), the other isn't ever left out of the picture, and two share the labor in a remarkable way that few sibling bands do.
In short, Black and White is cohesive and airtight in production with purposeful orchestration throughout. Some could be disappointed that it's not a true continuation of Wake Me's style with fewer radio-friendly tracks and more sentiment in the musical atmosphere. If there are any missteps to mention, the album seems to slow down pretty early on with the bluesy and drawn-out "Stone" and "Ninety-Three," following the upbeat "This is Love" and "Once Upon a Time." The former two are the longest tracks on the record, and they keep the energy compacted just a little too soon in the tracklisting. One could also argue that the album doesn't fluctuate very much in terms of volume with fewer "big" moments and more steady flow through the project. However, these sorts of issues become less noticeable after every listen.
After almost four years, Black and White was worth the wait. While not as sugary sweet as Wake Me in its overall appeal, the sisters' second go-round progresses above and beyond their debut in reservation and serenity, painting a vivid work of art that's all their own and full of redemptive joy. It only cements the sisters as one of the smartest pop acts to come around in years, and the album stands as one of the first true "must-haves" of the year. Another Kickstarter success story for the books, Black and White wastes no time in portraying the daring power of creative independence.- Preview date: 1/26/13, Review date: 3/5/13; written by Roger Gelwicks of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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