Priscilla Ahn's 'When You Grow Up' album review

By My Nguyen,

Korean American singer/songwriter, Priscilla Ahn’s songs have acquired the seriousness of childhood, an essence that makes her second studio album, When You Grow Up, an endeavor that is at times quite solemn and delicate. Tracing the trajectory of her sophomore full-length release, the dainty and quietly melodious tracks seem very much a harkening back to Ahn’s roots. Some of the playful harmonies and moving melodies have nuances of Occidental influences.

Priscilla Ahn was born Priscilla Natalie Hartranft, in Fort Stewart, Georgia and the majority of her childhood was split between the US and South Korea. Ahn adopted her Korean mother’s maiden surname as her stage moniker, which seems like a pretty good indicator that the devoted songstress intends to fully embrace her roots. Touring with the likes of Joshua Radin, Amos Lee, Ahn started to receive recognition for her work when in 2008 she was selected as Artist of the Week in Paste magazine, as well as making an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in May 2011.

Yet the laudable qualities that make When You Grow Up a good album is also grievously its undoing. The delicate sound, which is offset by the music box-like tinkling, becomes a little too goody-goody-two-shoes after a while. It becomes apparent that Ahn’s musical approach – which can at times evoke images of lightness, airy features, and etherealness – is too pleasant once I started to wish that instead of a music box, it was Pandora’s Box that Ahn unlocked instead. For in Pandora’s Box, listeners may get more of a balance of good/evil, vices/traits, whereas the fairly nicely rendered stories we get here can often fall short of expectations.

But once I delved a little deeper into Ahn’s storyline, the later parts of the album start to exhibit more lyrical maturity with the song lyrics making a move into darker territories and more complex planes of thought. Like in “I Don’t Have Time to be in Love,” Ahn’s cynical reverie is both a hurtful and necessary stance towards growth and creating boundaries. While the tracks, “Cry Baby,” “Lost Cause,” “Empty House,” “Elf Song,” and “Torch Song,” resembles well known past and recent musical acts like Karen Carpenter, Mazzy Star, and the Decemberists.

Ahn’s vocals are often highlighted in a sweet way - complemented by the riffs of guitars and keyboard chords quietly arranged in the background, and in tracks where her voice is absolutely drenched in reverb we get a nice sense that Ahn is playing just for us. But all this is done with the same tilting melodies played over and over again, listeners may get the impression that they’re on an eternal merry-go-round ride. After a while, the approach gets a little tiresome. Yet with a simplistic approach to music, a lot of the song’s off Priscilla Ahn’s When You Grow Up has a hymnal quality to them that comes off as a classic. Though they don’t quite resound in the way that some of us would like, these songs are catchy and you might catch yourself humming along to one of her tunes going about your day.

With that in mind please check out, her collaborative project with Charlie Wadhams, The Sweethearts EP , up for free download now!

 
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