Friday, December 24, 2010

The Best Albums of 2010

1.  Local Natives - Gorilla Manor
2. Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History
3. She & Him - Volume Two
4. Jukebox The Ghost - Everything Under The Sun
5. Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
6. Mouth's Cradle - The Next Big Thing
7. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
8. Robyn – Body Talk
9. Matt & Kim - Sidewalks 
10. Sara Bareilles - Kaleidoscope Heart
11. The Avett Brothers - I And Love And You 
12. Ellie Goulding - Lights
13. Stars – The Five Ghosts
14. Joshua Radin – The Rock and the Tide
15. The National – High Violet
16. Trent Dabbs – Transition (EP)
17. Josh Ritter – So Runs The World Away
18. Sleigh Bells - Treats
19. B.O.B. - The Adventures of Bobby Ray
20. Cary Brothers - Under Control
21. Of Montreal - False Priest
22. Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
23. Andrew Belle - The Ladder
24. Neon Trees - Habits
25. Owen Pallett - Heartland

So what's next?: 2011 looks like it's going to be the year of female pop. Explosive new albums are arriving from some of the industry's biggest names, including Britney Spears, Lady GaGa, Kelly Clarkson and Madonna. In the indie/alternative world, new LPs from Bright Eyes, The Decemberists, Fiona Apple, Anna Nalick, Santigold, Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, Bon Iver, Lykke Li, Radiohead, The Shins, and Death Cab for Cutie are sure to have fans making tally marks on their calendars until the albums' respective release dates. Bands on comeback missions range from Blink 182 to Blondie. Rappers Kanye West and Jay-Z will be releasing a collaboration effort entitled Watch The Throne, and Bono and the gang will be returning for U2's thirteenth studio album, Songs of Ascent.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Best Books of 2010

1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Crown)

It is impossible to read this book without having your jaw dropped onto the pages. Rebecca Skloot marvelously weaves the tale of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African American woman who in 1951, tragically died at the young age of 30 from cancer. A sample of Lacks’ cancerous tissue (which was taken without her consent), however, provided the medical world with an enormous revelation: cells that could survive in the lab. These cells became platforms for countless scientific breakthroughs (such as the cure for polio) and played a pivotal role in defining contemporary medicine. As gripping as it is educational, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an incredibly important book which questions not only our legacies, but the ownership of our own bodies.

2. The Passage by Justin Cronin (Ballantine Books)

In these vapid Twilight-obsessed times we live in, the concept of yet another vampire novel originally made me completely dismiss even reading the first page of this book – but holy hell, am I happy that I did. Cronin’s masterpiece begins like the Green Goblin’s origin story: a top secret project to use a virus to create a mega soldier backfires, unleashing a villainous tirade that kills the majority of the population. In this post-apocalyptic world, a six-year-old girl is the only one who can destroy this army of mutant-vampires dominating the planet. Equal parts horror and science fiction, The Passage is as addictive as the world within its pages is treacherous (think Cormac McCarthy mashed up with Neil Gaiman and a bloodthirsty young Stephen King). The first in what’s bound to be a legendary trilogy, The Passage is already in development to be made into a film by acclaimed director Ridley Scott (Alien; Gladiator).

3. Everything Here Is The Best Thing Ever by Justin Taylor (Harper Perennial)

Taylor’s debut shares more than just a similar title to Miranda July’s classic, Nobody Belongs Here More Than You. Both short story collections are composed of heart-wrenching tales that challenge the morals, meanings, and relationships that define being human. Writing with a similar minimalist and dry wit as July, Taylor creates everyday characters faced with make-or-break scenarios. The book’s highlight, “In My Heart I Am Already Gone,” the Gilbert Grape-esque protagonist is given the horrendous task of putting down his uncle’s cat, all the while dealing with crippling feelings resulted by having not left his on-and-off-again girlfriend or hometown. Written with a fine-tuned understanding of the human psyche that is too rare in contemporary short fiction, Taylor’s collection is a must-have for anyone who has ever had a shattered heart and/or crushed soul.

4. Room by Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown & Company)

Easily the most original book of 2010, this is one of the few books actually deserving of all of the massive hype surrounding it (here’s looking at you Jonathan Franzen). Told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, Room tells the story of a little boy who believes the entire world is contained within an 11x11 space. Jack is unaware that a larger universe exists (“dogs are just TV” he says), but as he grows older and more curious, it becomes increasingly difficult for his mother to convince him that the confined place they inhabit is the extent of reality. What Jack does not know is that he and his mother are in fact imprisoned and that he himself is the product of his captor’s brutal rape of his mother. Donoghue brilliantly uses Jack’s voice to (unbeknownst to him) describe some of the darkest and cruelest extremes of humanity, leaving her readers hooked and devastated by the truth they know lies behind Jack’s observations. Although at times terrifying and heart wrenching, Room has hope shining throughout it, making it one of the most resonant books I’ve read in recent memory.

5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis (Viking)

All hail, Lydia Davis! Seriously though: there is no other contemporary writer that is even in the same league as her. Her style is meticulous and unprecedented; crafting the tiniest, simplest things into short sentences that read like the most beautiful medley of words ever strung together (if you have not picked up The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, you haven’t experienced true contemporary literary greatness yet). While Madame Bovary has been around for more than a century-and-a-half, never before has an English translation of it stayed so true to the postmodern style of the French original as does Davis’ new translation. For the first time, there is an English edition of this book that displays how experimental and extraordinary Flaubert’s writing really was. Davis’ French-to-English carbon copy translation shines a fresh (and necessary) spotlight on Emma Bovary, the visceral ingénue who birthed the literary feminist movement. And who better to give justice to Flaubert’s avant-garde voice than the queen of postmodernism herself? I found myself re-reading paragraphs and sentences over and over again, astounded at how beautifully the words flowed together – an experience I haven’t had since … well, The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. With its gorgeous, flawless, and lavish language, Madame Bovary is a masterpiece of high art. This new collaborative edition between Flaubert and Davis is ready to resurrect this treasure and have it redefine the form of the novel all over again.

Honorable Mention: Half A Life by Darin Strauss (McSweeney’s), The Killer of Little Shepherds by Douglas Starr (Knopf), Just Kids by Patti Smith (Ecco), Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr (Scribner), The Instructions by Adam Levin (McSweeney’s), and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson (Knopf).

2011 Book I Am Most Excited About: Blue Nights by Joan Didion (Knopf)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Happy Holidays from Alex & Joel!!

Happy Holidays from me and my boyfriend :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What the Soundtrack to BURLESQUE Reveals About the Movie

Burlesque is that delicious fat-free, sugar-free, calorie-less, ab-enhancing Thanksgiving pie that gay men all around the world have been eagerly waiting for. Ever since news broke last year about the studio getting ready to bake this treat, homos have been salivating all over the blogosphere about the idea of being cut a slice. And who can blame them? It has all the essential ingredients: Stanley Tucci reprising his snarky yet simpatico grandpa-gay role from The Devil Wears Prada, Veronica Mars, McSteamy, and the Abercrombie-esque villain that made the first Twilight movie slightly watchable (except this time dipped in baby oil and wearing nothing but suspenders, a bowtie, and guyliner). As far as spices go, throw in excess amounts of sequins, corsets, slutty choreography, radio-ready pop music, and a musical theater modified version of the Coyote Ugly screenplay. Then there’s the crumble - the delectable topping that you scrape off when you want just a little taste: Christina Aguilera. But while all these sound like the makings of an irresistible guilty-pleasure, they’d be nothing without the crust: the base and the foundation that holds all of these ingredients together – the saving grace without which this would be more disaster than dessert: Cher.

This is what the trailer tells us about the film so far (set to be released on Wednesday, waging a box office war against Harry Potter, Disney’s Tangled and the Anne Hathaway/Mr. Taylor Swift romantic drama Love and Other Drugs): Aguilera plays a small town girl with an ugly wig who travels to L.A. and lands a job as a cocktail waitress at a glitzy nightclub for people who prefer watching Moulin Rouge over porn. The eager Aguilera decides that she, too, wants to sing on stage but doesn’t know if she has it in her to be in the spotlight. She harasses the club owner (Cher) as she’s applying collagen enhancing ruby red lipstick, and finds inspiration from the shirtless bartender. Before we know it, she’s doing an Ashlee Simpson-during-her SNL-fuck-up inspired dance routine on stage while Cher judges and Stanley Tucci is just being Stanley Tucci. She fails to impress Cher, but all that changes point five seconds later when she belts and scales her register and everyone acts like they’ve never heard Christina try to prove her worth this hard before. A montage then shows everyone in awe of the singer, as she rises to fame and makes out with the aforementioned bartender (still shirtless) on a couch. All of a sudden, Aguilera is the prima donna of the club with all the rest of the Pussycat Dolls consigned to the role of being her backup dancers.

As per most musicals, the soundtrack serves as a plot summary to the entire thing. After listening to it once and based on the order of the songs, this is what I can tell you this movie is going to be about:

1. Something’s Got A Hold On Me – In this Etta James cover, Aguilera will be seen in her small rural hometown having dreams of grandeur. Like in the beginning of Britney Spears’ Crossroads, there’s a good chance she’ll be dancing on top of her bed in her parent’s house singing into a hairbrush with just her underwear on. The song will continue as she steps onto a one-way bus to Los Angeles and she’ll sing as she stares longingly out the window and finds her way to the city of big lights.

2. Welcome To Burlesque – The first of the two Cher tracks on the soundtrack, this one’s title pretty much explains itself. This will be the song that Cher will be performing in a sailor hat and hooker boots doing leg swings over chairs and boys who literally killed to be dancers in this movie, while Aguilera first steps inside the “Burlesque” lounge and falls in love with it. It’ll inspire her to take a job there while confirming that Cher is still the baddest bitch in town.

3. Tough Lover – Ok, confession: the only reason I know what this song is actually about is because it’s the one they use in the trailer when Cher discovers Christina can sing. So that’s what this is: the song that Christina will belt until the veins in her temples pop out and makes Marley go hide under a tree to die from all the screeching. We haven’t heard Christina scale octaves like this since her days of singing empowering ballads for ugly people.

4. But I Am A Good Girl – Uh oh, looks like Christina has made it! In this song, she’s being showered with designer dresses and jewelry. A hardly veiled knock-off of Rainbow High from the musical “Evita,” this track has Aguilera doing her absolute best Madonna-doing-Marilyn-Monroe impression. And like in “Evita,” this song is the turning point where the small town girl is all of a sudden a major celebrity.

5. A Guy What Takes His Time – Now that Christina is the new “it” girl of the club, she needs a romantic interest, right? This mid-tempo jazz number signifies her discovery of Cam Gigandet’s character, a human Ken doll who’s dressed a little bit too much like Joel Grey in Cabaret. The message of this song is that she wants to see if their connection is real before she embarks on her maiden voyage with him, but luckily the song is under three minutes long, meaning that the waiting period is about the same as it is when going on a first date with someone you meet on D-List.

6. Express – This song is clearly the one that’s going to make Christina go from local celebrity to national superstar. Big bad McSteamy will enter as the evil and enticing talent scout trying to steal Christina away from the club and put her on the main Hollywood stage. He’ll watch her shake her feathered ass while he turns into Ursula the sea witch and Christina uses a quill to sign her voice and soul away to him.

7. You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me – Written by hit-making songwriter Diane Warren (Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” and Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me”), the second Cher song finds the legendary diva warbling about how down in the dumps she is. She’s sad because Christina will most likely have betrayed her and sided with McSteamy, saying that the club needs a “younger” and “fresher” Madame – something that despite pounds of Botox, Cher can’t provide. This will prompt her to have a Regina George-esque “But I like, discovered her” monologue, and she’ll find herself lost on the streets of L.A. feeling like all she’s worked for in her life has been taken away by a watered-down Lady GaGa wannabe and a TV doctor. This is also a song that applies heavily to Cher’s own life, as rumors are swirling about that at the conclusion of her Vegas show in February, she’ll go on her 97th international farewell tour and release a brand new album.

8. Bound To You – And since Cher was sad, Christina has to be too because Christina can’t ever not try to out-compete a fellow diva (remember when she signed with Coke after Britney was already the Pepsi girl?). This song has Christina crooning about feeling trapped under her new management, making her realize that throwing Regina … er, I mean Cher … under the bus may not have been the best idea. Either that or it accompanies a tragic S&M rape scene, which judging by Christina’s “Not Myself Tonight” music video this spring, does not seem that farfetched.

9. Show Me How You Burlesque – Here comes the showstopper! Everyone is happy again! Cher is back in the club and Christina is still the reigning queen of the spotlight! I don’t know if it counts as plagiarism when you’re ripping off your own former hits, but this song has Christina doing an excellent revamping of her previous Lady Marmalade. It’s also a less dangerous but trashier Cell Block Tango, where Christina will probably be wearing a fedora with a diamond encrusted thong and knee high boots she borrowed from the Pretty Woman storage closet. This is the song that Christina says ends the movie and “will have you leave the theater dancing and in a good mood.” Easily the catchiest song on the whole record.

10. The Beautiful People – Ah, the credits song. This one has a much more contemporary feel than the rest of the tracks. Mixing contemporary pop with a sprinkling of the flapper-chic music that composes the rest of the soundtrack, this song would have been a far better choice for the lead single (rather than “Express”). It’s a cute, upbeat song that will inspire at least half the audience to go buy enough glitter to bathe themselves in while they choreograph their own Fosse routines to it.

There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about Burlesque. That being said, it looks and seems absurd enough to be majorly enjoyable. The soundtrack is fun and brings Christina more into her comfort zone than Bionic, the horrendous “comeback” album she released earlier this year that garnered little to no sales and even fewer positive reviews. While this movie will most likely not be a box office champion, listening to this soundtrack has secured my ticket for tomorrow’s opening.

And while I may have been completely off with my predictions about what this film is actually going to be about, a few things I know for certain: 1) Stanley Tucci is only one Kurt Russell away from playing the gay best friend to every main character in Silkwood, 2) Cam Gigandet will make 98% of this film’s audience’s pants a little tighter, 3) It’s going to be better than Glitter, 4) The producers weren’t smart enough to have Cher and Christina sing a duet, 5) Cher will be a shoe-in to perform “You Haven’t Seen The Last of Me” at this year’s Academy Awards and 6) Director and writer Steve Antwin, better known as the fat kid from The Goonies, grew up to be EXTREMELY homosexual.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Holding Out for a Hero: My Night with Kate Winslet

“Don’t be freaked out that I roll my own cigarettes,” Kate Winslet tells me as we huddle under a small awning to avoid the Manhattan raindrops. “I know, it’s very European of me,” she continues as she reaches out her hand and offers me one. She then pulls out a box of matches from her sleek and elegant black trench coat, sticks her cigarette in her mouth, and brings the flame to her face, putting a momentary spotlight on her signature beauty mark above the right corner of her lip.

I’m not one to be starstruck. Living in New York and working various jobs around Manhattan has made seeing celebrities nothing less than ordinary. At Estee Lauder, I sold make up to Christina Aguilera. At Starbucks, I made cappucinos for Marc Jacobs, Anna Wintour, and Jodie Foster all in the same day. Having an entertainment blog has made me fortunate enough to interview and even befriend some of my favorite musicians. The closest I’ve ever been to being intimidated by a celebrity’s presence was two summers ago when I interviewed Anne Hathaway at the Shakespeare in the Park opening night gala. It was two a.m. and we had both taken a little too much advantage of the open bar. The impromptu questions I was asking were a bit slurred and I had a momentary panic attack that I would make an ass out of myself. But in the end, her not so sober state balanced mine out and the interview ended up as a success.

When I was nine-years-old, I was living in Germany. My father used to be an international correspondent for Newsweek so my childhood was spent moving from one European country to the other. The year was 1997 and a little movie called Titanic had just been released. My girlfriend’s mother (my first in-law, if you will) was a huge fan of director James Cameron due to the sequels he had made to Alien and Terminator. She decided, therefore, to take Nathalie and me to the theater to see his newest film endeavor.

The only problem was the movie was in German. I was taking the basic level of German at my American school, but my knowledge was certainly not extensive enough to understand a three-hour period film. Regardless, I sat in the movie theater with my bucket of popcorn and watched what would ultimately become the world’s most epic cinematic love story unfold before my eyes.

The language barrier soon became a non-issue, as I immediately fell in love with everyone that graced the screen. I didn’t need to understand what Jack and Rose were saying to know that they were from two different worlds and shared a Romeo and Juliet-esque forbidden love. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand the iceberg warnings because I was familiar with the history of the ship and knew what was coming. It didn’t even matter that I didn’t understand what Jack was saying to Rose right before he froze to death because I knew what it was. A few years later, I made my Polish grandma watch the VHS tape with me, and even though she didn’t understand the language either, she still cried through half of it and said it was the best motion picture she’d ever seen. How many movies can honestly make such claims?

Titanic changed the way I viewed movies. It was the first blockbuster film I saw and today remains on my short list of all-time favorite films. The memories I have associated with it are endless, making it a true time portal to my childhood.

What I loved most about the movie, though, was Rose. Kate Winslet, only twenty-years-old at the time of filming, had me completely enamored from that first iconic moment when she steps out of the town car and swoops her massive ascot hat to the side to reveal her fiery red hair and blasé attitude toward “the ship of dreams.”

When the English movie theater in Berlin started playing the movie, I made everyone I know come see it with me. My parents, my brother, my piano teacher, my friends. I became obsessed, with my walls covered floor to ceiling in magazine cut-outs and posters of Ms. Winslet.

From there on out, I always went to see every movie Kate was in. No matter where I was in the world, I was always at the movie theater on the opening day when she had a new film. Whether it was a serious sociopolitical drama like The Life of David Gale and Little Children or a period piece like Finding Neverland or a romantic comedy like The Holiday, I have contributed at least one ticket to the opening weekend box office revenue of every film on Kate’s extensive resume.

In 2001, Kate lent her voice to an animated adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. The film was released solely in the United Kingdom, and stayed that way for a few years (I recommend you check it out now as the holiday season comes up, as it is currently streaming on Instant Netflix). In this film, Kate tried out something new and sang the theme song: a gorgeous ballad entitled “What If”. Imagine then my disappointment when I would request the song on American top 40 radio, only to have DJs laugh at me and say “you mean the actress?” before they hung up. To compensate, I (living in New York already at this point) used my allowance to have a copy of the soundtrack specially shipped to me from a record store in London so that I could hear Kate sing.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to meet her. What would I say? Would she be a total bitch and shatter my adolescent vision? To be honest, I was scared. I’d always seen interviews with her where she seemed completely down to earth, but what if that was just an act? What if I met her and she was cold and rude and stuck up and mean? Would I be obliged to cross my name off the list of her top fans?

Fast forward to tonight. Thursday, November 4, 2010. I’m standing outside of a restaurant in the East Village, talking on the phone. I look to my right and strolling down the block is none other than Kate Winslet. I immediately hang up and shove my cell phone in my pocket, as I look to see if this really is who I think it is coming in my direction. She’s walking by herself, an umbrella in one hand and texting on her Blackberry with the other.

“Excuse me, Ms. Winslet,” I say as I awkwardly approach her. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to disturb you, but I saw Titanic when I was nine-years-old and ever since then, whenever somebody has asked me if I could have dinner with anyone in the world, you’ve always been my answer ... so I couldn’t just let you walk by without saying hello.”

“You’re too sweet!” she responds with her fabulous British accent. “My friends aren’t here yet and I was just about to smoke a cigarette. Would you like to join me?” She ushers me over to a little alcove on the side of the street near the restaurant. She sparks the flame of her match and my childhood fantasy.

We begin to small-talk and she starts asking me about my life. What I do for a living, am I dating anyone, what did I study in college, what do I want to do in life, etc. I answer all of her questions as she smiles and listens, making little jokes here and there and rubbing my arm to comfort me when I tell her my boyfriend works on a cruise ship and I don’t get to see him very often anymore. “That must be hard for you, you must miss him very much,” she says.

The conversation then turns to her. “I read you’re doing a film adaptation of God of Carnage, is that true?” I ask. “You must be a real devoted fan if you know that already,” she replies with a chuckle. She goes on to tell me about the film, but mentions that she is shooting another movie first: Contagion. She tells me that she’s flying to Chicago on Monday for a couple of weeks to film, but that she can’t give me too many details about the movie because it’s “a very rare circumstance where I’m sworn to complete secrecy about the project.” She does mention that it is an ensemble piece and that she’s thrilled to be working with director Steven Soderbergh (upon research later, I learned that the film is an action thriller about the outbreak of a deadly virus that threatens to wipe out earth’s human population. Winslet plays a doctor contracted to help find a cure). “So many times you see movies and you wonder why the people making it made certain, well frankly, shitty choices. I’ve never had that experience watching Steven’s work and it is just such an honor to be working with him.” Winslet’s genuine excitement for the film makes her sound like an actress who has just landed her first big role.

“So you saw Titanic when you were nine? How old are you now?” Winslet asks me. “I’m twenty-two,” I respond. “Fuck, that makes me feel old” she says through her smile.

When I ask her what her favorite role she’s ever played is, she doesn’t hesitate to say Hanna Schmitz in The Reader “because it was by far the most challenging part I’ve ever had to play.” (Sidenote: Winslet won her first best actress Academy Award for this film ten minutes prior to my 21st birthday. Needless to say, I had a monumental celebration). “Have you seen that film?” she asks me. Have I seen it? Honey, I own the DVD of every movie you’ve ever made. “Yes, I have,” I respond.

I chime in my two cents and tell her my most loved character of hers is Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, my all-time favorite movie. She responds by telling me that Clementine was “the most fun” she’s ever had playing a character. She then goes on to tell me that she never watches her own movies (“except at premieres because then I kind of have to”), but that a friend recently asked to watch Eternal Sunshine with her. “I agreed because I hadn’t watched it in ages, and my god, was that an experience! It was such a terrific film and so fun to make,” she divulges.

Fifteen minutes have gone by and Winslet gets a text from her friends that they’ll be there in any second. “I’m throwing a surprise shindig for my friend’s 42nd birthday,” she tells me. “She’s going to kill me because I promised I wouldn’t make a big deal out of her birthday ... but it’s her birthday! What kind of friend would I be not to make a big deal out of it?” I laugh and she begins to talk to me about her children. It is clear that, despite the countless jewels and designer dresses for red carpet affairs she has received and multi-million dollar contracts she has signed, Kate Winslet is just like anyone else.

“Well, I should go inside and make sure we have a table,” she says as she smothers the lit remains of her cigarette with the toe of her chic, tall leather boots. She gives me a hug and kisses both my cheeks (like a true European). “It was so lovely to meet you,” she says. I ask her if I can take a photo with her. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m just terrified of Facebook and the Internet and all that shit,” she replies. “Would you mind if we just kept this our little memory?” She stretches out her hand to shake mine once more before she leaves, smile still intact. She gets to the door and turns around and waves to me. My childhood dream had just come true.

There’s that old expression that people say: never meet your heroes because chances are you’ll just be disappointed. Well, I’ve never been able to confirm or refute that statement because I had never met mine. Tonight, I can safely say that I don’t find any personal truth in it. Kate Winslet was everything I had hoped she would be. She was warm, funny, beautiful, charming, and just … normal.

Near the end of Titanic, Old Rose (played by the marvelous and recently deceased Gloria Stuart) reminisces about Jack: “I don’t even have a picture of him. He exists now only in my memory.” I may not have a picture to document my twenty minutes with Kate Winslet, but tonight will forever stay ingrained in my mind.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Review: Sara Bareilles' "Kaleidoscope Heart"

Nobody was more surprised when Sara Bareilles’ new album, Kaleidscope Heart, debuted at #1 after its first week of release than … Sara Bareilles. “I’m over the moon about this” she stated upon hearing the news. “I had no idea that this was even possible and so here I am once again inspired and amazed by the impact of the most generous fans in the world. All I can say is thank you.”

A follow-up to her 2007 debut Little Voice, Bareilles' sophomore album capitalizes on the double-platinum success of her breakout single Love Song, by procuring a track listing stuffed with sugary piano-pop that's mainstream enough for Taylor Swift fans but folky enough to still make its listeners feel indie. On her resume, Bareilles should really highlight the rare skill of making sounds that fit equally on boho-Brooklyn coffee stand soundtracks and on Top 40 radio bookended between Usher and Paramore.

Remember that scene on the bleachers in Never Been Kissed when Jessica Alba says to Drew Barrymore “you’ve totally transitioned. Some people go through all of high school trying to transition and they never make it”? She of course is referring to Drew’s overnight transition from nerd to prom queen, but the bitchy popular girl does make a valid point (okay, so we’re not talking about high school here, but you get the metaphor). Bareilles’ zero-to-hero success is extremely rare in a time when fantastic musicians like Ingrid Michaelson, although widely recognized in their playing field, hardly ever swim across the river from the land of indie darlings to the land of chart-topping musicians … at least with their sound and integrity completely intact (see: Jewel’s “Intuition” phase). What I’m really trying to say is: Sara Bareilles is not Josie-Grosie anymore.

It is no coincidence that Kaleidoscope Heart was released in the fall. The album is all about turning new leaves, changing colors, and fresh beginnings. Bareilles’ sweet vocals and melodies channel the same feeling of excitement as that first sip of your inaugural pumpkin spice latte of the season. One can easily get lost in her music the same way you can get lost in the comfort of your favorite oversized sweater while planning your annual apple-picking expedition or trip to Six Flags’ Freight Fest. And just like a freshly lit fire, Bareilles’ songs flicker with sparks of intrigue and mysticism, rendering her audience incapable of feeling anything but warmth upon exposure.

While she may have secured her place in the industry by crooning that she’s “not going to write you a love song,” Bareilles has made no such promise for round two of her musical offerings. Each and every twist of Kaleidscope Heart is a colorful love song, emblazed with fiery doses of the passion, longing, and pain that define human relationships. I’d be shocked if each song on this album wasn’t played at some point or another in the background of a borderline heart-wrenching/melodramatic moment during this season of Grey’s Anatomy.

Tracks like "Uncharted" showcase Bareilles as a true triple threat (pianist, songwriter, and vocalist), while other songs harness her desire to branch out of her comfort zone and sprinkle her signature sound with influences from completely different genres (i.e. an undeniable country twang in "Gonna Get Over You" and a generous spoonful of jazz in "Not Alone"). Lyrically, the album is just as sharp and witty as Little Voice. Throw in the musical versatility Bareilles has infused her trademark ivory-pounding sound with, and this record proves that Bareilles, by taking risks that both expand and enhance her repertoire, is as daring as she is talented.

At a recent concert of Bareilles’ I attended, she played an acoustic cover of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie In A Bottle,” joking about how she wanted to sing a song that inspired her to be the artist that she is today. With a jovial attitude like that in addition to her feel-good pop anthems, it’s easy to see why the masses are eating her up like she’s the last Red Velvet Cupcake at the end of the day at Magnolia Bakery.

If Lillith Fair were a serial killer, then the 13 songs that compose Kaleidoscope Heart would be its massacred victims. It is easy to hear the songs on this album being the bouncy, upbeat relief you would need after pinching yourself to stay awake during Sarah McLachlan's set or burning your bra during Ani Difranco's. Bareilles’ compositions drip and ooze with Cranberries-esque 90’s female angst while simultaneously maintaining that overall slice of sunshine feeling she had already perfected on her first album. Little Voice gave the world a taste of a fresh new artist, but with Kaleidoscope Heart, Bareilles has played the notes that will ensure a long and fruitful career.