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PK Tessmann – Dear City  – Album Review

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The middle-of-the-road has disappeared for singer-songwriters, creating a landscape where only truly talented emerging solo artists break through the pack. PK Tessmann is one of those rare multi-talents who mixes some amazing writing and composition, with a voice not dissimilar to contemporary Ingrid Michaelson for an album that never feels like it relies on any one great element but instead is always greater than the sum of its parts.

Dear City opens on a rush of bright sounds and infectious emotions on the track “Careful & Kind.” When the chorus finally lands the rush of harmonies and xylophone brightens the tone even more than the piano and whistling did before. The track really falls right on the line of great pop sensibility, understanding of tone and eliciting emotions without overdoing any. There’s a slower feeling to “Forget The Day” as it is surrounded by watery sounds and reverb-laden piano. The rack really showcases Tessmann’s understanding of emotion in music, her use of multiple simplified layers and voices on different instruments is more powerful than any complex guitar line.

She’s My Sister” is a more vocally focused song using a more narrative set of lyrics and letting the words drive the song. The instrumentation stands out here through interesting recording and very restrained use to make each trumpet line and drum hit more evocative. Some slide guitar and floating drums play over “Century” with its simple writing, covered in a clever mix of arpeggios and some calming sounding notes on the keys.

On title track “Dear City” Tessmann opts for a more open sound, letting her voice and guitar echo and drums hold back so much you swear they could burst through at any minute. The swelling of background noise begs for the instrumentation breaks that come through several times in the song and craft a song with as much emotional weight in its words as in its lyrics. “You Made Your Own Bed” covers its soft guitars with a country tinge courtesy of a lightly plucked banjo and tremolo-heavy harmonica. Tessmann’s vocals drive the track more and more as the song progresses, not only with volume but the passion behind their delivery and the layering within the vocals themselves.

There’s a distinctly straightforward pop sense to “So Nice To Meet You” which doesn’t take anything away from it but does rely on some of Tessmann’s particular writing trademarks to keep it from feeling out of place. The metallic sound of the guitars on “Right Where You Are” gives a particularly hopeful feeling to its sound. The slow build of other instruments and rhythm make the burst of sound in its ending a satisfying one.

Tessmann’s overpowering tremolo and haunting guitar lines gives a dark feeling to “Twist Our History.” The lyrics of the song speak of the growing pains of relationships in an appropriately contradictory way, giving the whole song a feeling of uncertain curiosity. The echoing guitars on “Nothing More” have an instantly iconic sound to them, making it clear from the start the album is closing on one of its best tracks. With a powerful story of a lost girl surrounded by deep strings and a guitar so high it sounds like a ukulele at moments.