Sacha Sacket: Hermitage

In 2007, Sacha Sacket performed an intimate concert at The Woodshed in Salt Lake City, promoting his album Lovers & Leaders. At the time, I knew zilch about his music, but I was intrigued by what I had heard firsthand about the openly gay Iranian singer-songwriter. The night of the concert I joked that, from a distance, Sacket looked similar to Paul Reubens (Pee-wee Herman). To be honest, he’s an exotically handsome man, and a mean pianist.

That being said, I was enthusiastic about Sacket’s fourth album release Hermitage. I had heard through the grapevine that the album reflected “a different kind of Sacha.” According to Sacket, he was exhausted from a recent tour and was feeling the weight of the world burdening his shoulders, so he ‘ran away’ to a secluded California mountain cabin for rejuvenation. While there, he wrote and recorded the approriately entitled Hermitage.

I was, however, slightly disappointed to learn that the album isn’t a full-length offering, instead a five-track EP. Thankfully, the disappointment immediately returned to enthusiasm after I popped the CD in and listened to the first track, “Running Away.”

The single echoes Sacket’s overwhelming experiences leading up to and during his seclusion from the outside world; the song opens “on the road, it grew old, pulling rabbits from my soul,” heavily shadowed by Sacket’s signature classical piano. The track builds speed to a crescendo of dueling instruments including a cello, drums and electronics. By end, “Running Away” will have sucked all the anxiety and tension from your body … freeing whatever you’re holding inside.

But then suddenly you’re pulled back into agression with the second track “Used.” Musically it’s like a battering ram and Sacket’s voice, pained and brooding, sounds awkward — madman Vincent Price, perhaps. The single about self-betrayal would be more clutching and reflective if it didn’t sound like a strange Broadway piece from The Phantom of the Opera.

The next two tracks “You Could” and “Hold On And Hope” are more subdued musically, introducing delicate arrangements with accordian and rich lap steel. Here, I was reminded of the softer side of Sacket from that night at The Woodshed — the intrinsic hopeful, the unwielding optimist.

The final track on the 18-minute EP, “The River,” is an analogy, one I think I’ve heard before somewhere, for the struggles found in relationships. The urgency in Sacket’s vocals instills a stronger connection than the familiar lyrics, giving just a so-so end to Sacket’s “hermitage.”

Hermitage hits the streets Nov. 17.

Mika: The Boy Who Knew Too Much

The 26-year-old Beirut-born, unlabeled, but “call me bisexual if you need a term for me” singer-songwriter, Mika, released his sophomore album The Boy Who Knew Too Much in late September. This is the follow-up to his award-winning debut Life in Cartoon Motion, which hailed the incredibly infectious “Grace Kelly” and the Grammy-nominated “Love Today.”

As with the first album, TBWKTM explodes with catchy, orchestral pop dance music; and Mika’s vocal range — from warm, melted caramel to uncanny falsetto junctions (and literally everything in-between) — establishes the artist as a definite one-of-a-kind. The depth of TBWKTM is similar to that of Life in Cartoon Motion — filled with coming-of-age tales, but with a bit more maturity to some of them, both musically and lyrically.

The first track, “We Are Golden,” is most representative of the above point. It’s driven like a High School Musical number — flashes of teenagers dancing on cafeteria room tables enter the mind. Yet the massive background choir and orchestral instruments extenuate the grandeur of the song, and the age-defiant declarations in the chorus could easily make it a good activism chant — one urging those in authority to not underestimate or belittle or discourage strong-willed adolescence.

The coming-of-age theme is written throughout the album: From the “modelesque” single “Blame It On The Girls,” the Disney-inspired “Toy Boy” and the 1960’s Be-bop sound of “Good Gone Girl” (in which Mika’s incredible range ignites a doll’s voice) to the smoldering jazz number, “Pick Up Off The Floor” and the thundering, theatrical ballad “I See You.”

Though Mika believes sexuality should not be broken down into labels, he’s also not lyrically stalled by it either. In “Toy Boy,” he says:

Hold me in your arms, I’m just a boy like you.
But your mama thought there was something wrong, didn’t want you sleeping with a boy too long.
It’s a serious thing in a grown up world, maybe you’d be better with a Barbie girl.

Mika, though he may not appeal to many adults, is a vibrant, talented and playful artist with just the right amount of social obligation to become a highly acclaimed, respected musical talent.

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