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Masts of Manhatta

Tracy Bonham

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Album Review

Tracy Bonham’s career trajectory seems to run in reverse; with each record, she gets riskier, coming a long, long way from the bottled-up furious angst of her ‘90s alt-rock staple “Mother Mother.” Masts of Manhatta, her fourth album and first since 2005’s Blink the Brightest, ups the ante from that haunting record by accentuating its elliptical turns, its songs dodging conventional routes in favor of left turns. Bonham is assisted greatly by Beck guitarist Smokey Hormel and his trio, who lend her songs earthiness and art, giving this heft and welcome unpredictability. To an extent, Bonham lays out her album’s thesis on “We Moved Our City to the Country,” a knowing satire of hipsters fleeing the urban jungle for faux authenticity, where she feels the pull of the two extremes as evidenced by how her sawing violin contrasts with the cabaret shuffle of Hormel’s group. Masts of Manhatta walks this line throughout, sometimes getting quite a bit livelier, sometimes indulging in decidedly moody textures, always twisting just slightly from the expected, making for a record that’s quite intriguing upon the first listen and better on repeats, where the songs begin to dig in and all the textures gain resonance.

Biography

Born: March 16, 1969 in Boston, MA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Like Alanis Morissette and Liz Phair, Tracy Bonham made her name during the alternative boom of the mid-‘90s. Unlike those two songwriters, she did so by merging post-grunge with elements of classical music, drawing upon her violin skills in the process. The combination helped push her 1996 debut, The Burdens of Being Upright, to gold sales, and Bonham closed out the year with two Grammy nominations. Although her later albums didn’t fare quite so well,...
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Masts of Manhatta, Tracy Bonham
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