Sophomore release a forensic look at the crap love tends to serve up

Adam Griffiths

Rachael Yamagata insisted on writing the liner notes for her 2004 debut, “Happenstance.” She explained the reasons behind her subtle, at times meager, approach to finding hope in hopelessness as a hopeless romantic. She even warned what we might come to expect from her sophomore effort: “a more cynical approach in which it all goes to hell and nothing makes sense and chance is winning…”

Well, chance isn’t winning.

That much is clear as, four years later, Yamagata delivers her “Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Heart.”

The album is delivered in two parts. The first, “Elephants,” is more reminiscent of the artist’s earlier work – the grossly introspective, borderline manic utterings of a heartbroken. On “Teeth Sinking Into Heart,” it’s an in-your-face confrontation

of much of the same, but with edgy grit that declares, maybe for the first time in Yamagata’s short career, that everything might or will be OK after all.

But the themes the 31-year-old artist knows and plays so well are really the only thing that echo her earlier work. If “Happenstance” ended wounded, the beginning of “Elephants” is bleeding, laced in a haunting piano, lonely strings and Yamagata’s gnarly voice that sets her apart.

The title track is a metaphor objectifying us against wild animals – elephants, hawks, tigers. It’s brilliant, because it’s hard to see the line between the human and the savage, and it captures the gut-level instinct to “flee with your wound just in time” or of “watching yourself ripped to shreds, laughing as you bleed” in heartbreak.

“Duet,” featuring fellow indie-crooner Ray LaMontagne, outlines a quarrel between two lovers estranged by their trade, and it speaks to anyone who’s ever had to let go of someone close to them for what’s best for both. By “Horizon,” at the end of the first part, you may lose your will to keep going, but “Elephants” is that brooding message drunk on a few bottles of wine.

“Teeth Sinking Into Heart” stammers, drunk on shots, with raw electric guitar and drums. “Sidedish Friend” is an ode to lovers on the side to know their place and not expect more. You can’t help but take the tongue-in-cheek “Accident” as witty mirror – “there’s nothing worse than bitterness splashed across the page.” And the final “Don’t” on the album is a warble on the state of things and a charge to “don’t fuck me in front of me.”

So as much of a 180 that Yamagata seems to pull in the second act of a rather illusive career, save the duets with the likes of Mandy Moore, Bright Eyes and Chris Stills, you can still peg her as a chanteuse who writes bitter. But she waxes evocative, and even with a heart gone to hell and barely enough for the world to see, as she leaves us with at the end of the album, “bleeding doesn’t hide who I want to be.”

Adam Griffiths