Sound — 9
In 2004, singer/songwriter Rachael Yamagata released her debut album, Happenstance, on RCA Victor. However, it took four years for Yamagata to release Elephants...Teeth Sinking Into Heart due to conflicts with the label. She then signed with Warner Bros. Record, creating the two-disc masterpiece that finds the artist with more freedom than RCA Victor gave her. The first disc, Elephants, has a very dark, intimate tone, akin to a young girl's complex diary. The second disc (Teeth Sinking Into Heart) however, is gritty, more rock feeling, in stark contrast to the first. The title track off the first disc is perhaps Yamagata's strongest piece in her career as she layers sound after sound, creating a giant crescendo to an emotional climax. The whole disc sounds akin to a dark film score, and every track is placed in a specified order, tracking her progression into darkness, and coming to a sort of terms with it on the final track, "Horizon". The emotional climax of the sound however is the fourth track, a nine-minute epic titled "Sunday Afternoon". Written long before the album's release, "Sunday Afternoon" is another example of Rachael's experimental layering of sound to stir emotion in the listener. Where Elephants truly succeeds is it's ability to not become overly dramatic and gloomy, as shown by the placing of an acoustic guitar piece called "Duet" right after "Sunday Afternoon". This gives the listener a chance to breathe and become comfortable again. Ray LaMontagne makes a guest appearance on this track, another highlight in the album's overall sound. It's a song of simple beauty, both voices whispering the soft melody to the sound of birds outside a window. This creates a very personal feel to the album, drawing the listener in yet again to Yamagata's artistic mind. The album concludes with a beautiful piano ballad, "Horizon", which brings the album full circle, being similar to the album's title and first track, "Elephants". The second disc, Teeth Sinking Into Heart is not as strong as the first, though certainly interesting. It was wise of Yamagata not to mix in the songs with the first disc. (A mistake made on the Japanese release however). "Faster" is a rough, gritty sounding rock song that has a certain loose feel about it that makes it stand out as a highlight. Even "Sidedish Friend" shows a certain sarcastic side of the singer that we have not seen before. However, the weakest track, "Don't" leaves the listener confused and unfulfilled, the whole journey made on "Elephants" seems to now lead to nothing. If viewed as two separate entities however, the album's sound is immensely enjoyable.
Lyrics — 9
Rachael Yamagata's lyrics, especially on Elephants, is pure poetry, plain and simple. Themes of loss and obsessive love are plenty, something that she had dabbled in on her first album, Happenstance. The true lyrical masterpiece though lies in the title track, "Elephants", which provides the listener not only with a strong metaphor of pain, but also provides disturbing, poetic images. When describing a tiger, she sings "And I am dreaming of them with their kill- Tearing it all apart- Blood dripping from their lips and teeth sinking into heart." Disturbing as it is, she is singing of how vicious love can be, and she seems to be speaking with plenty of experience. "Sunday Afternoon" is equally disturbing with its haunting, heavy refrain in which she states, "I'm not gonna live for you, or die for you, or do anything anymore for you." In strict contrast are the lyrics to the second disc, which present a more sarcastic and strong being not seen in Elephants. The use of subtle explicits in the piano ballad "Don't"'s refrain come as a shock to many listeners, but it is overused, and unnecessary to a songwriter who's lyrics had haunted the listener previously. "Faster" details her not relying on her lover anymore, moving past him faster than he is moving. "Accident" is a clever, cynical view of society who loves a good accident, especially in the press. Overall, the first disc is miles stronger than the second lyrically, and Rachael works as a moper much better than a sardonic rock artist.
Overall Impression — 10
Rachael Yamagata's sophomore album is a massive artistic achievement in regards to its lyrical honesty and beautiful melodies. While Elephants is a much stronger side, kudos should be given to Yamagata for separating her two styles of songwriting into two discs. Differing from Happenstance, Elephants...Teeth Sinking Into Heart is not an attempt to have a hit single, but is more of an expression of art, her lyrics reading like a diary, and her string arrangements hitting deep. Highlights would include the title track, "Sunday Afternoon", "Duet", "Horizon" and "Faster". In a world where diaries such as Taylor Swifts are commercialized, Rachael Yamagata retains her success as an artist, defying stereotypes with every song.