and The Catapult's
The Other Side of Zero
Reviewed by John Hashop
“Objectivity, objectivity, objectivity”
– the credo of the serious journalist –
is something I can thankfully ignore. There has
never been anything dispassionate or clinical about
any review I've ever written. After all, the main
reason you are presumably reading this right now
is that you want some sort of informed opinion about
Brooklyn-based LES darlings Elizabeth and the Catapult's
upcoming album, The Other Side of Zero.
That is, of course, unless you happen to be a military
enthusiast and accidentally clicked this while researching
the Royal Navy's new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft
carrier and its steam-propulsion catapult takeoff
system. Wow. That was an awfully long way to go
for such a weak joke, and if it survives my final
edit, I abashedly apologize.
So I freely admit that I not only let my own personal
biases and tastes affect my reviews, but also allow
whatever is going on in my life to creep onto the
page – for this particular review, what's
going on for me is a crise cardiaque, which either
means “heartache” or “heart attack,”
I can't remember which. I'm pretty sure it's “heart
attack,” but the phrase looks nice on the
page and I'm going to leave it. We'll call it poetic
license and leave it at that.
As we all know all too well, when you've got boy
or girl troubles, every song about boy or girl troubles
jumps out at you like a native New Yorker at Serendipity.
You get to the point where you feel John Waite's
“I Ain't Missin' You,” should be labeled
a controlled substance, and, if you've got it baaad,
you start seeing hidden meanings in songs everywhere.
Left unchecked, you can find yourself awake at 3AM
dissecting Wang Chung lyrics over a bottle of Rumpleminze,
and no one should have to suffer that.
It was therefore with no small measure of unease
that I sat down with The Other Side of Zero.
Was this going to be a twee little indie heart-wrencher
filled with remorse or some melancholy diary entry
set to just enough music to technically be called
songs? Those worries and questions were driven out
of my head midway through the first track, though,
and replaced with the much more relevant “Is
this album going to be any good?” I skipped
ahead to the next track and was immediately annoyed,
and then the next and the next, my spirits sinking.
I really was looking forward to some good music,
and expecting it from the hype. After all, songwriter/keyboardist/vocalist
Elizabeth Ziman is a Berklee-trained Young People's
Chorus alumna who honed her chops touring with Patti
Austin. That's some CV, and yet here were five songs
that sounded like they were the first to be cut
from various, in no particular order, Sheryl Crow,
Fiona Apple and Liz Phair albums.
And then the sixth track, “The Horse and the
Missing Cart,” started up and changed everything.
With its sliding, swaying build of a rhythm underpinning
a deceptively complex arrangement banging away in
my ears, I flipped open my notebook and began to
scribble. By the end of the song, I was grinning.
Song number seven, “Open Book,” scaled
back the energy with its simple piano intro, but
thankfully kept the quality stuff coming. A simple
ballad about seeking a another chance at love, it
socked me a good one with the quietly plaintive
line “Darlin' won't you take a second look
inside this open book,” but that's what good
music does. I rolled with the punch and got ready
for the next song, “Worn Out Tune,”
which showcases drummer Danny Molad's choppy, syncopated
beat, and by the time I reached the devil-may-care
chorus, I had come to a realization: there's not
a single album I could name that led off with its
five worst tracks. The cynic in me entertained for
a whimsical instant that it was done on purpose
to make “The Horse...” sound that much
better. If you can think of an album that does that,
let me know, but I am still stumped.
And then it was time for the title track, a haunting
waltz with a necessary-feeling steel guitar crooning
a counterpoint to Ziman's insistent piano and Gillian
Welch and Dave Rawlings supplying surprise harmonies.
It's easily the standout of the album, well-crafted,
with, if not philosophically groundbreaking lyrics,
at least some honest-to-God honest ones. “And
the grass ain't always greener on the other end
/ first you've got to make it over just to see how
sweet it's been” rings especially true, resulting
in the song's swelling refrain of “Whatever
shall be, shall be” sounding less a cliché
and more a Zen-like axiom.
This laissez-faire (I know what that means) message
of raw truth and acceptance runs through much of
the album, with “The Horse...” notably
advising “You don't want to be so overly cautious
/ so fucking worried you're lost in the process
/ Best to forget yourself now right at the start.”
It can be a good message to hear when you're wrapped
up in yourself. If that's the vibe that's going
on down south, heck, it's enough to make an Astoria
guy want to move to Brooklyn.