I’m standing in the kitchen making myself a cup of coffee when suddenly I start humming a familiar tune. I’m trying to figure out where it’s from. The words start arriving to my lips, and I sing:
Have I lost you forever
Cause I need you in my life
Or were you ever really there at all?
Were you ever really there at all?
Who is this by? Where have I heard this? That’s when it hits me: Carrie Brandon.
Two months ago, the Penn State student released a 4-song follow-up to her 2011 debut album. The nearly 4-year “hiatus” might have had some people wondering what exactly Brandon’s been up to. After listening to the depth and tenderness wrapped in each note of “In the Fall,” I can safely say that this EP was well-worth the wait. In between studio recordings, Carrie has so clearly been consumed with feeling, living, regretting, and experiencing every sweet love and bitter heartbreak that characterizes the college experience.
The opening track, “How Far Apart,” is a fully-charged depiction of the changing tides of love. Brandon relates the highs and lows of relationships to seasonal elements and captures the essence of the vulnerabilities that so often complement allowing someone into your heart. You can clearly hear bits and pieces of Carrie’s main musical influences – primarily, Joni Mitchell’s folk vocal riffs and Ingrid Michaelson’s pop-theatrics. I would never wish heartbreak upon anyone, but if it results in a catchy song like this, it may just be worth it.
The piano featured in “Separated by the Sea” (lyrics referenced above,) immediately caught my attention and had me hooked from the beginning. It reminds me a lot of Sara Bareilles’ stripped-down piano ballads, which never fail to send me into an entrancement. Carrie sings of the pains of loving someone so intently but being separated by time, place, and circumstance. There’s an innocence to her tone; a wonderment of what could have been between lyrical lines.
The third song, “What You Do To Me” is a stark contrast to the somberness of the previous. Horns greet you at the start, along with a very danceable syncopated piano. We now hear Carrie falling in love. We hear her happiness; her optimism; and the promise of a new beginning. Coming up with catchy songs can be extremely difficult, but it’s something this singer-songwriter has mastered since her start.
The EP closes with “Mister In Misery,” an ode to those struggling with the vicious cycle of addiction. She offers sincere words of love and support and deplores, “Don’t fall into darkness, wrapped in your fear/When you know you’ll always find us here.” It’s another raw song, primarily featuring the beauty of her voice and the minimalism of her finger-picked guitar. I’m not sure if this song was written for a specific person, but the intimacy of it suggests it was carefully designed for a loved one. Regardless, its message can easily transfer to anyone in need.
“In the Fall” is a wonderful sign of good things to come from Carrie Brandon. The California-native brings an interesting take to the world of music, and certainly to Penn State music. She’s a modern representation of some of the most respected female musicians of the 60s and 70s (e.g. Carol King, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt.) Her continual evidenced growth as an artist, characterized by the self-inflicted challenges of always trying out new things in the song-writing and production processes, makes her one of Penn State’s most seasoned musicians. Now a senior and welcoming the next chapter in life, we can only hope that Brandon continues to craft her skill along the way.