Our Billy Dye calls Tacocat’s new Sub Pop record a rapid, relevant commentary on life in the Pacific Northwest.
For a layman, this is a country album, albeit the creator describes it as “hippie rock.” For me, the description “hippie rock” has such a wide range of meaning, e.g. folk, bluegrass, Jimi Hendrix, and pretty much any jam band, etc., making the term too abstract for this article–and for this author. The author is a layman and a layman from a small Idaho town where MTV is called CMT.
That said, using “country” to solely describe the music on the album is no more helpful than describing it as “hippie rock.” The country genre has a vast spectrum of sound-diversity and concept around quality. So, without navigating the vast planes of country music too much, let’s just put the album in the ballpark of “modern pop country” and go from there.
“Modern pop country” means,–to be frank–Sarah Vitort could be on the country radio stations right now. She isn’t, but several of her songs could play on the radio and no one would question it, i.e. no “What the shit is this?” or station flipping. Hell, there is one or two songs that under the right circumstances could become popular–that is my belief. Most notably, her song “Young Love.”
By the end of the first minute of “Young Love,” it is clear the song is mastered for the radio and has a video on the internet to boot. No doubt. It has all the right initial ingredients of a song on the radio. There is a signature riff right out the gate that identifies and distinguishes the song immediately. This is followed by a soft melodic narrative that is simple, clear and conducive to people learning the words quickly–engaging their memory; then when the chorus hits with gusto, Sarah reminds listeners of something all non-sociopathic people experience: first loves. “Young Love” is a nostalgic mind-meld of how love felt or what it looked like during adolescence and the experience of it ending. In some circles, the song abides by a perfect formula for pop music.
More importantly, these experiences with love in our youth, good and bad, often leave such profound and emotional impressions on people’s early development that it arguably shapes their relationships with other people for the next ten years or more. It’s kind of incredible that within the first 60 seconds of her song, she creates the capacity to make people emotionally vulnerable and reflective. She can affect people. The quality of art is often defined by its capacity or ability to affect people, and the aim of this album is to affect all people positively. She succeeds and fails in this goal throughout the album.
Vitort’s music is accessible to everyone. The use of acoustic guitar and her voice on the album is generally pleasant for all people. Songs follow a recognizable formula with no surprises that might scare someone away. It is easy to get into the songs. Lyrics are honest, straight-forward narratives with simple language, avoiding any abstract metaphors and tricky word play. Melodies are light and never bogged down by cumbersome pace. Vitort sets people up to feel good and facilitates an endearment towards freedom.
In the album-titled song, “Wild Heart, Gypsy Soul” the formula works masterfully. From the opening, the song lifts the listener and drives them through an open landscape (I imagine) of flat lands populated by short bushes framed by stumpy homemade wire fences, where tall cliffs carve a horizon in blue skies; there is a dry heat and the windows are down. It is an example of where the music and lyrical narrative truly align to inspire wanderlust. Another favorite is “A Date with Jack” where Vitort playfully describes her relationship with her drinking habits that is cleverly self-empowering. “Natural Disaster” is a bit of an anomaly on the album by using metaphor–digressing from her direct narrative formula a tad–in creating a second (or third) potential single on the album as it is catchy as fuck and fun to sing along to. In other circles, a perfect formula for a pop song. In these songs she excels at capturing the listener and can affect them.
Songs like “Trouble” and “Thunderstorm” go completely unnoticed on the album. After over a dozen listen-throughs of the album, these songs never grabbed me or generated any other interest outside being uninteresting. There is nothing unpleasant about these songs. The songwriting is fine. They fit into the mold of her songwriting style, which is solid. The risk you take by taking few risks in writing anything is not being special or unique. Most albums have these songs on them. The songs that get skipped or tuned out.
The sunny side of these songs for an artist is there is a lot of potential. My advice would be to take these songs and experiment with a few risks. Go outside the formula. They probably won’t end up on the radio but they will give your album depth. For a bad songwriter, you cannot make a boring song into a good song, however, for Vitort, who is a good songwriter, she can make these unnoticeable songs into interesting songs–I believe. She has the ability to affect people positively with her music. If she focuses on what makes her music good music, her second album will be even better. This one is pretty good. »
– Billy Dye