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The Break-In (Bonus Track Version)

Ari Hest

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Album Review

Although radio-friendly singer/songwriter Ari Hest's music (the rhythm, the chords) isn't always particularly distinguishable from similarly emotionally accessible artists — Matt Nathanson, Josh Kelley, Jason Mraz — the Bronx native has an important advantage over his peers: he possesses a better-than-average voice, something that can't be faked by ProTools, and something that he accentuates on his second full-length, The Break-In. It seems to have developed tremendously since his first record, Someone to Tell, came out in 2004, and the results are impressive. His range, for example, has expanded, or is at least displayed more prominently here: he moves from the low, sonorous notes on tracks like the opener "When and If" to a convincing falsetto on the title track without ever sounding strained or unnatural. It's a resonant, affecting tenor that blends well not only with itself but also with Hest's acoustic guitar and Mitchell Froom's clean production, and doesn't need to be forced into sounding emotional and honest. And songwise, although Hest sticks to simple, standard progressions and melodies, the way the electric guitar, keyboards, and percussion enter and exit, his allusions to Beach Boys-esque harmonies, the occasional times he slips in an unexpected note, even the crooner-ish jazzy track, "I've Got You," make The Break-In better than your typical sentimental-male pop album. The songs are hooky, of course, but not overly so, and they don't depend on catchiness to carry them. The edgier "Right of Way" plays on lightly distorted electric guitars and driving vocal lines, while "Leaving Her Alone" is gentle and softer and contains one of Hest's best phrases ("Here, here is an empty room/Filled with an empty man"). In fact, it's the lyrics that are the only thing on the album that really fall short, especially in comparison to what he shows he can accomplish in other fields. The rhymes are uncomplicated and sometimes cliché, or at least very ordinary, which contrasts with Hest's strong voice, and keeps The Break-In from reaching past the boundaries of adult alternative and into actual poetic singer/songwriter territory. Still, it's a leap forward for Hest, and promises much more to come.

Biography

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Ari Hest became interested in music while still a teenager growing up in the Bronx. Though he'd taken piano lessons as a child, he taught himself how to play the guitar, mostly by listening to records from his parents' collection (Paul Simon) and alternative radio (Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews). While studying at NYU, Hest hit the East Coast college circuit, performing a mix of covers and his own material. The exposure built him a respectable regional following, which he nurtured with self-released albums...
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The Break-In (Bonus Track Version), Ari Hest
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