I get a lot of CDs, records, and even cassettes in the mail but Cara Van Thorn is the first act to send me a credit card with their music on it. Okay, it’s not actually a credit card but it looks like one and has this little USB port that comes out of it. It’s catchy, simple, and super intriguing. I’ve had this card sitting on my desk for a while just marveling at the technology that it contains while sliding the USB port in and out like a fidget spinner but I figure it’s time I actually dig into this nine-song album.
This album kicks off with “Whatever It Takes” which instantly takes you over with the sound of powerful horns and a steady drum beat before it kicks into a super jazzy, upbeat number. This instantly reminded me of a local favorite of mine, Davina & The Vagabonds. The sound is old and the recording quality has this crackiness (I know that’s not a word but I can’t think of anything else to use) that just added to the old-soul vibe. A hurried pace drives this track forward but, before it ended, I found myself completely addicted to Cara Van Thorn. I know this is only the first of nine tracks but I can already tell you that this is going to be a stand-out album for me.
Things slow down to a more slow and steady pace for “She Bleeds” but the amount of power is the same. From horns to a prominent bass line and gorgeous yet understated piano playing, I was in awe of all of the instrumentation throughout this track but it was the vocals that really caught me. They are smoky and sultry but come in loud and clear with the way they dance above the smokiness of everything else. There’s almost a musical-like vibe to this track with the songwriting that I found amazing. I’m not sure how else to explain it but when I closed my eyes during this track, I could see dancers prancing around the stage with a small band sitting on the side of the said stage playing through an act that would be followed up by the dropping of a giant red velvet curtain. Do I sound crazy? Probably, but listen to this song and then try to tell me you don’t understand what I’m trying to say here.
I have a friend that, when drunk, has a habit of literally ripping her fake eyelashes off and then leaving them somewhere in my kitchen. That’s why I had to giggle as the album moved to the third track, “When I Take My Eyelashes Off (You Forget That I’m Pretty)”. The giggling didn’t last as my jaw hit the top of my desk as this track really jumped in. This was instantly a favorite of mine. From the lyrics to the jazzy nature of the beat to the overall attitude felt and heard throughout this song, I was in complete bliss as this track took over my house and I had to listen to it a few times before I was able to move on to “Don’t”. Seriously, put this one on when you’re getting ready in the morning and I promise it will kick your day off in the perfect way. This may be my new daily wake-up song and I’m not sorry about it.
The ebb and flow of this album is subtle but it’s genius. Although I have yet to hear a ballad-like song, I loved the way that “She Bleeds” slowed things down after the triumphant opening in the same way that “Don’t” calmed things down after the anthemic “When I Take My Eyelashes Off (You Forget That I’m Pretty)”. There’s something haunting about this track that I feel may have been in the previous three tracks but really steals the spotlight here. Still, the vocals are stunning but there’s a sharper edge to her tongue in this song that I found intriguing. Somehow, vocalist, Carrie Stephens is able to find the balance between smoky jazz bar, angsty riot grrrl, with a little bit of that dramatic musical influence throughout this song and I found myself just absolutely stunned by it.
“Tongue Tied” brings back that more straight-up jazzy vibe felt in the previous tracks. Again, it was Carrie’s vocals that stole the spotlight throughout this track but there’s no ignoring the instrumentation happening behind her vocals. Throughout this track and the next one, “I’ll Be Waiting”, I found myself trying to figure out how she was pulling off the strings of notes she was with such smooth transitions and slides. It was crazy to me that I found myself addicted to the same thing in both of these tracks when they were so starkly different. Whereas “Tongue Tied” was upbeat and full of life, “I’ll Be Waiting” had a more ambient tone to it. It’s still fun but definitely a more mature mode than I had heard previously in this album. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t in the mood for such a serious and somber track but, again, the vocals kept me hanging on to every word and note until the end of “I’ll Be Waiting”.
Again, that perfect ebb and flow comes back into play as the album moves on to “Gone”. It seems to split the difference between the two previous tracks while bringing an almost standard singer-songwriter vibe to the album. Don’t mistake those words, this is not a standard singer-songwriter track but it has some nods to that vein of things. At the same time, there’s this very triumphant horn part in this track which, alongside the staccato vocals, caught me a little bit off guard but definitely made me stop everything and pay attention.
I could see that I was running out of time with this album as “No One but You” took over my house and I was determined to not miss a single note or word as it played through. Another more “musical” feeling track, I loved the piano parts that came in and out to embellish this song. Think old-school carnival, I loved the subtle playfulness that came with this track. It starts with the instrumentation and those piano ornamentals scattered throughout the track but there’s also something a little playful about Carrie’s voice here that just adds to the ambiance. There are some very surprising twists and turns throughout this track but, you know me, I’m not going to ruin them for you. You will just have to take a listen for yourself but let me tell you that the ending of this track is almost unrecognizable from the beginning and I loved that.
“Commitmentphobe” closes out this album with a very triumphant sound. Strong vocals, sturdy drums, and bass with larger-than-life vocals, I loved this. Instead of going out quietly, Cara Van Thorn closes out ‘The Way I Hear It in My Head’ on a very confident and fun note while making sure you remember that this band is so much more than just one sound. You get that jazz influence, that most musical-esque vibe and some of the singer-songwriter nods throughout this track all the while getting explosive horns and no shortage of talent. A hell of a way to end a hell of an album– this closing track is far from a closer. It makes you want to play the album all over again only, this time, get out of your seat and move around a bit.
Cara Van Thorn’s ‘The Way I Hear It in My Head’ has been sitting on my desk for a wee bit and I regret that so much. This has been one of the best albums I’ve reviewed yet this year and I can not wait to dig into more from this amazing band!
My Favorite Track(s): “When I Take My Eyelashes Off (You Forget That I’m Pretty)”; “Commitmentphobe”
For Fans Of: Literally everything– If you like sound, you will love this album
Mosh-ability: 4 out of 10
What My Cats Thought Of It: Artie slept on the floor right next to my desk; Autumn slept upstairs on the floor
How Badly I Want To See This Performed Live: 10 out of 10
My Overall Rating: 11 out of 10
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