CD Review of One Cell in the Sea by A Fine Frenzy

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One Cell in the Sea
starstarstarno starno star Label: Virgin Records
Released: 2007
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Fronted by 22-year-old singer/pianist Alison Sudol, A Fine Frenzy offers up a debut album rich in melodic melancholia that recalls artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, and Dido. Sudol is a stunning redhead, born in Seattle and raised in Los Angeles, with an angelic voice to match her cover-model looks. If the Lillith Fair tour were still happening, A Fine Frenzy would probably be on it.

The band takes its name from a passage in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” -- “The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven” -- reflecting Sudol’s literary influences, which also include Jane Austen and the surrealist works of Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis.

The album features lush instrumentation and production from British producer Lukas Burton, who has worked with Paul McCartney, James Blunt and Dido. Lead track “Come On, Come Out” has a majestic sound where Sudol’s voice soars. First single “Almost Lover,” written when Sudol was 18, finds her singing a delicate and passionately yearning ode to a former lover over a more stripped down arrangement.

“Lifesize” offers an upbeat take on love as Sudol sings, “We held the globe and made it turn / Wandered through the universe / The men of science observed through telescopes / All for love, we become / Larger than lifesize, wondersome / Great in the eyes of someone.”

“Lifesize” and “Think of You” are standout tracks where mid-tempo beats provide a chance for Sudol to stretch her vocal chops with a full band. “Hope for the Hopeless” finds Sudol in a soaring mode somewhat reminiscent of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

If the album has a flaw, it’s that too many of the songs are similar-sounding ballads based around very simple melodies. A Fine Frenzy might stand a better chance to break out if they rocked out a little more, because Sudol definitely has the voice to give any of today’s female pop rockers a run for their money. But for fans of piano-based soft pop, A Fine Frenzy offer a debut that is indeed fine, and announces Sudol as a new talent worth keeping an eye on.

~Greg M. Schwartz