You’ve got till May 2005 to get to one of Michal Towber’s on-campus performances. And based on her new album “Coma,” she’s not going to be doing free shows for long. A junior in Calhoun, Michal Towber is innocuously making her way into eclectic outlets of pop culture. Her song “Broken Boy” was featured on the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack and she’s on the Delia’s “In Your Head Sampler.” Her new album “Coma” gained exposure on the soap opera “One Life to Live,” when both the song “Tissue Paper Wings” and her scoring for the show’s soundtrack were each nominated for an Emmy.
For a singer-songwriter who’s performed at the New York Anti-Folk Fest and classifies her previous work as “alternative rock,” Towber has taken an unexpected turn with “Coma” towards, gasp, mainstream pop. The CD was produced by Billy Idol’s keyboard player, Joseph Simon, and Towber considers it to have a Fiona Apple-like vibe. It’s hard not to compare the two since “Coma” features Fiona Apple’s rhythm section, with Dan Rothschild on bass and Larry Ciancia on drums. Tracks like “Alone” have a particularly Apple-like beat. Add in Towber’s keyboards and the result approximates Apple’s sound to an eery — and captivating — degree.
Regardless of whether her band reminds you of Fiona Apple or not, the vocals definitely will not: Michal Towber has a more flexible voice, less of a moan than Apple’s, but equally smoky and, at times, twice as sweet. Towber has been compared to various other female vocalists, most prominently Sarah McLachlan, but also indie favorites like Heather Nova and Ani DiFranco. Towber is as versatile as DiFranco, and her layered vocals on songs like “My Tart” are reminiscent of McLachlan, but Michal is nobody’s protege. “Coma” floats through various sub-genres of pop with ease. “Alive” is a definite pop song, and possibly the reason Towber has been compared to Michelle Branch, but Branch sounds like a choir-girl next to Towber. “Lovesick” is gloriously sultry, while the acoustic version of “Darjeling,” a beautiful ballad featuring piano, guitar, and angelic vocals, almost has a folky sound. “Desireless” and “Dreaming of You” could have been written by Harry Connick, Jr., with lyrics reminiscent of Patsy Cline. “Rose,” perhaps the most stylistically autonomous track, bodes well for future pop compositions.
Towber ventures a little too far into the mature spectra with “Tissue Paper Wings” and “Fly to You,” which feature piano reminiscent of adult contemporary pianist Jim Brickman. Like Marie LaSalle singing Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way” in High Fidelity, Towber’s cover of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” freshens up a tired song, but resembles Annie Lennox’s 1995 version.
Towber’s stylistic meanderings make for a good listen, but leave us waiting for her to find direction. It’s vaguely disconcerting to hear soap-opera music on the same album as smoky bar music. At the same time, the album offers a little bit for everyone without being generic. In the end, it’ll leave you addicted to certain tracks, while hitting “skip” on the others.
“Coma” is currently available at cdbaby.com, and will soon be launched on Apple i-tunes and become available at Cutler’s.ÊMichal Towber can be seen on The Yale Show, Tuesday Nov. 11, and also hopes to play in the Yale-Harvard Battle of the Bands, along with Brian Ha (bass), Marc Sorel (keys), and Chris Paxton (drums). For shows in New York, consult her Web site, http://www.michal-towber.com.
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