Maren Ord: Pretty Things Music Review

United States of AmericaBy Jase Luttrell
United States of AmericaSalt Lake City, Utah, United States of America
Posted: 6 July 2006

Maren OrdIn early February of 2001, Maren Ord released her debut album Waiting. The album received considerable praise and was featured in a string of LDS (Latter-Day Saint) movies. She later released her follow-up CD Not Today, a collection of six songs, mostly co-written with Randy Bachman (of Bachman Turner Overdrive). The CD is an interesting sophomore effort, but because Maren was the co-writer, the CD wasn't her signature sound people had grown accustomed to with Waiting. Later this year, her fans will no longer have to wait to hear Maren's own songs, when she releases the acoustic album Pretty Things.

In February of 2006, I had the good fortune to see Maren perform at Velour in Provo, Utah. During this rare, intimate, solo concert, Maren announced that she had three master copies of Pretty Things to give away. She would ask the audience a question, and the first person to shout out the answer would win the CD. The first question she asked was "What city am I from?" Two people shouted the answer out at the same time, and were each rewarded with an official copy of the master. With only one CD left to give away, Maren took a suggestion from fellow singer-songwriter Debra Fotheringham on the stage, and asked the audience for the name of her first CD. Without hesitation, I shouted "Waiting!" and was rewarded with the copy of the new album. Because I was only given a copy of the master CD, I can't comment on the artwork, but Maren photographs well, and I'm sure the artwork will be in a contemporary style befitting of her music.

Each song on the album typically features two acoustic guitars and some kind of percussive instrument such as a shaker or tambourine. "So Down" and "Pretty Things" are the only songs that prominently feature the piano. Maren's vocals range from soft to soaring, and edgy to gentle.

Maren Ord: Pretty ThingsPretty Things starts off with two very strong and catchy tracks. "Who Am I" is a very positive but introspective song with beautiful harmonies and digitally processed background vocals. A subtle acoustic guitar solo bleeds into Maren's lilting background vocals in the bridge, which have a tinge of jazz-inspired chord constructions. "American Loser" is one of those songs that has a chorus that will never leave the listener's head. It is heavily influenced by mainstream pop, but that's not a bad thing. On the contrary, it's a fun song to listen to, and I don't mind when it gets stuck in my head. The lyrics: "I've been crowned the American loser", are fun to sing aloud, and I am usually met with quizzical looks and stares by anyone within earshot.

"You Say", a darker, slower song, follows the pop-oriented "American Loser". This song, along with "Your Door", are the two darkest songs on the album. On "You Say", the nearly inaudible second acoustic guitar, muted by the player's palm, is an interesting choice, and gives the song many layers. It is not until the final chorus that I can hear the soft chords of the piano, which provides extra depth. The song only features two acoustic guitars, a piano, and a shaker, but every time I hear this song I hear something new. This is an impressive feat for such a simple piece of music.

The two piano songs, "Pretty Things" and "So Down", are both beautiful, slow ballads that prove Maren can play the piano just as well as she plays the guitar. "Pretty Things" is reminiscent of the wildly popular "Everyday" from Waiting. The song will likely be played in numerous weddings and as the soundtrack for future LDS movies. However, the opening lyrics, "I have developed beauty marks over the years", are a touch dramatic, considering Maren is only in her early twenties. Like "Pretty Things", "So Down" is a beautiful ballad, but with a flare for the melancholy of unrequited love. The chorus is memorable, but the best part of the song is the piano solo, which ends the song with no musical resolve. This is a deliberate choice, since the song's lyrics do not resolve either.

The fastest songs on the album, "My Picture" and "Your Door", are cleverly placed one after the other, because they also contrast each other. "My Picture", despite its fast pace, is a lyrically cryptic song. I have no idea why she is singing about her picture, or why she's "not gonna put it away", but the last minute of the repeating lyrics, with soaring, bird-like background vocals is tiresome. However, the song melts into the dark "Your Door", which features unique rhythm breaks and quick lead guitar playing throughout. The simple shake of the tambourine keeps the flow of the song moving in a quick direction, even through the forgettable acoustic guitar solo in the bridge.

"This Is What Life Brings" and "My Side Today" are both largely forgettable. They are painfully slow songs but would make great background music because they flow well, don't feature any outstanding musical or lyrical moments, and do nothing to catch the listener's attention. Though the songs don't stand out, they are still beautiful pieces of music, and are worth a listen.

One song on the album I wish I could forget is "Tempted By The Storm". The song is blatantly religious and unapologetic but it has a very good message and will likely be received well by most fans. I find the song to be boring and not terribly creative, and I wouldn't mind much if the song were left off the album entirely. In fact, I usually skip over it when I listen to the CD.

I've decided to save my favourite two songs for the last part of this review. "Tell Me Off" is a great, upbeat song with a catchy chorus and funny lyrics: "you can tell me off, you can run your mouth off all you want." What I most like about this song is the harmony vocals performed by a male singer. Because I don't have the liner notes, I have no idea who this singer is, but he has a great voice, and the harmonies are structured so well that they complement Maren's voice in a very strong way. If "American Loser" isn't stuck in my head, the chances of "Tell Me Off" being stuck in my brain are pretty good because of its chorus.

Track 10, "The Airport", is my favourite song on the album because it is the only one that is mostly played in a different style from the other songs. The song employs clever fingerpicked rhythms, comparable to Lisa Loeb's style on her songs "The Way It Really Is" and "Do You Sleep?", but it is the great melody of this song, and the way Maren sings it, that really sets this one apart from any of the others. Maren uses varying levels of volume in her singing style and in this song the excellent melody melts into the acoustic guitar. The result is simply amazing.

Since this review is coming out before the album is released, I urge people to pick up Maren Ord's Pretty Things once it is available. Few people will be disappointed by Maren's overall maturity, songwriting ability, guitar style, and impressive, varying vocals. Maybe, one day, I'll be walking down the street hearing someone blatantly singing the chorus to "American Loser". For a change, it would be nice to be the one to give the quizzical looks, though I have a feeling my looks will be one of enthusiasm, knowing that one other person in the world has experienced Pretty Things and Maren Ord for his or herself.

You can listen to sample tracks on Maren Ord's MySpace profile page. Opinion
Rating: 8/10
Key Facts (Review Copy)
Artist: Maren Ord
Title: Pretty Things (Audio CD)
Label: None/Independent
Release Date: To Be Announced (US)
Genre: Acoustic Rock

Track Listing:
1. Who Am I ... 03:23
2. American Loser ... 03:14
3. You Say ... 04:45
4. Pretty Things ... 04:54
5. My Picture ... 04:12
6. Your Door ... 03:22
7. This Is What Life Brings ... 02:51
8. Tell Me Off ... 03:11
9. Tempted By The Storm ... 04:17
10. The Airport ... 03:21
11. So Down ... 05:03
12. My Side Today ... 02:51
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