A compilation of moody folk-tinged pop/rock, that record established McCarley as the Mandy Moore to Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Her star may not have shined as brightly as those of her genre peers, but McCarley was still grounded—and certainly talented—enough to become a force to be reckoned with in her own right. Hence the placements on soundtracks for movies like He’s Just Not That Into You and TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill.
But for her sophomore album, My Stadium Electric (released exclusively via iTunes last week), McCarley stepped up her game to emerge from the shadows and steal the spotlight on center stage as an indie pop songstress exploding with crossover appeal.
Although both Love, Save The Empty and My Stadium Electric are distributed via Universal Republic, the latter has a significantly more apparent major record label stamp on it. After all, McCarley’s debut was completed independently before it was picked up and released by Universal Republic. Thus, it’s a far more stripped-back and raw collection of songs.
For My Stadium Electric, the record label assisted in the creation of the album from day one. While McCarley did work with Love, Save The Empty’s primary producer Jamie Kenney, she also enlisted the help of new collaborators like songwriter Dan Wilson (Adele’s “Someone Like You”) and producers Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, Kelly Clarkson, Foster The People), Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre, Pink, Fiona Apple), Ben Allen (Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective) and Mark Treppe (Jason Mraz, Train).
On her new album, McCarley decided “to take a giant step away from the heavy introspection of Love, Save the Empty to bring out a more playful side that she can show off in her live act,” wrote The Huffington Post in a recent feature about the musician. “So touches of Fergie and Katy Perry are more visible here rather than her biggest songwriting influences — Fiona Apple … and Patty Griffin.”
The result is an incredibly well put together album that has all the elements of both a mainstream pop and an indie singer/songwriter record. It’s got quirky lyrics, lush vocal harmonies and a refreshing reliance on instrumentation not entirely generated by a laptop. And it’s also an expertly produced upbeat record that layers in synths to make the songs explode with radio promise.
But fear not. Just because McCarley has allowed herself to be influenced by a major record label to go down a significantly more mainstream route doesn’t mean you’ll be hearing her singing “Call Me Maybe” anytime soon. While her sound has indeed morphed into something new and more confectionate, McCarley is still an artist whose music remains true to its roots and is unafraid to pack a punch.
On “Just Another Day,” for instance, the singer even criticizes her label for its high level of involvement in the creation of her album. In this track, McCarley acknowledges the shifting direction of her music while also firmly refusing to sacrifice her artistic identity.
“Need, need to please the boys club. Which one of you is the leader? Numb, numb, the dummy has his thumb down on everyone,” McCarley challenges before asking, “Hey, where are all of the dreamers?”
It is clear that to her, the pop-fortified sound of My Stadium Electric is a natural evolution of her sound rather than a stunt to break the Top 40. Thus, the album doesn’t play like a musical departure for McCarley, but rather more like a game of dress-up where she’s trying on lots of new accessories. But whatever new colors she splashes on, the canvas underneath remains the same.
Other standout tracks include the iTunes single of the week, “Amber Waves,” a sugary piano-pop ode to letting oneself getting immersed in new love. “Pop Gun” is a cheeky percussion-heavy anthem of reclaiming oneself from an all-consuming relationship, while “What I Needed,” “Re-Arrange Again” and “Survey” are all tender, ethereal ballads that solidify McCarley’s status as a master of her craft.
My Stadium Electric is the type of album that could be equally appreciated inside of an intimate coffee shop or bursting through the speakers of a large amphitheater. Don’t be surprised if both happen in the very near future.