Elizabeth and the Catapult

All right guys. It’s go time. I hope everyone has their bags packed and is ready to board the Sunmarine, because Underwater Sunshine is coming for you! (Native New Yorkers, you can pack bags too if it makes you feel less left out.) Last week when we released the art, I think the whole Festival team was so proud: you know the feeling you get when your friend does something incredible and you want to run through the streets and show everyone you know? That’s how I feel about Frank’s art. It’s certainly beautiful, but more than that, it represents so many things the Festival is: beauty, light, the loveliness of utility, all underscored with the bicycle— the opposite of stasis. Friends, we are in motion. And it is going to be an incredible ride.

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So one last article, one last time to say “Katie here” for the 2018 season, and I couldn’t be more excited to introduce you to our last Underwater Sunshine Fest artist, Elizabeth & the Catapult. I’ve been listening to them since 2009 when they released the brilliant Taller Children, in which the title track proclaims, “So you think you know, think you know better/ Just because, just because you’re older and wiser/ Don’t you know, don’t you know/ You don’t get smarter/ You’re the same as you started/ You just jump a little higher in the end/ We’re just taller children.” That kind of clever writing, paired with playful musical accompaniment and Elizabeth Ziman’s alternating sleepy-then-biting vocal delivery, makes every song feel crisp and new, no matter how many times you’ve heard it. 

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Elizabeth & the Catapult is a trip featuring piano, drums, and guitar, though they often add some strings to the mix to flesh out a track. They have found a way to maintain pop sensibilities without it feeling like chamber pop— that’s to say, they know how to make it sound as contemporary as anything on the radio, just put together better and with more heavy-hitting writing. Think of a picture: the resolution on Instagram is so diluted, if you blow it up, you can’t even get a clear 4x6. But if you take a picture with a nice DSLR camera, you can blow it up into a banner and see all the tremendous colors and brilliant edges. That’s Elizabeth & the Catapult: high resolution pop music.

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I’m always immediately drawn to persona pieces, and Ziman has written a brilliant one in “Ambrosia,” a song I can’t get out of my head, nor do I really care to. It reminds me of some of Aimee Mann’s persona pieces, especially songs like “Mr. Harris” (Whatever, 1993) or “I Can’t Get My Head Around It” (The Forgotten Arm, 2005). With “Ambrosia,” Ziman introduces us to a character of the same name who takes care of her mom: “I won’t go to bed/ Til I know that she’s all right/ Pancakes for breakfast/ Ice cream for dinner/ She says to live every day like it’s the last days of our lives.” The song is lovely and lilting, but there are percussive elements throughout underscoring the major key: even the stringed instruments and the opening vocals are percussive, almost in a heartbeat rhythm. We know things are bad, and we know things about the whole family:

My brother’s a dealer

He sells on the corner

He always comes home

When he smells her rhubarb pie

Our mom’s hands are shaky

So I do the baking

She counts out her pills

And fills her throat for one last time

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The mother says, “May you never take for granted all that you are/ And I may be passing, but you’re still my champions/ We have to live every day, every day, like it’s the best day of our lives.” And though they admit they’re dodging doctor’s calls and that there are tons of problems— they’ve got the “same roof” over their heads, and the refrain constantly reminds the listener that even Ambrosia as, an almost certainly tired, caretaker, finds herself at peace and enjoying her life. The children’s choir and brass add a cinematic and innocent quality to a song that is looking directly at some of the harder parts of life— death, caretaking, drugs, doctor’s bills— and makes it something beautiful. And why wouldn’t it be beautiful? It is a season of life, after all, and Ziman seems to understand that all seasons are lovely in their own way. I love not just the way the song sounds and feels, but that core: the idea that life is worthwhile, even when you’re not sure why. She has an incredible cinematic scope in many songs, including her most recent single release, “New Beginnings.”

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 I think it’s especially fitting that one of the singles off the 2017 release Keepsake is called “Underwater”— it’s sort of apropos, don’t you think, that we’d end this particular essay talking about a song— an upbeat, cheerful song— with the idea of being underwater? If you’re not finding joy and delight in that discovery, well… you’re not me. But this is one of those kismet coincidences that proves even further to me that not only do we have some beautiful things to look forward to with Elizabeth & the Catapult, it seems like a blessing over the whole festival. So I’ll let Elizabeth Ziman end this blog post with lyrics from “Underwater” instead of pontificating more about how excited I am:

 

And I’m not afraid of sleeping like I used to be

I can take the dreaming like a fish in the sea

And the world looks so much better and sapphire green

I can hold my breath longer than I ever believed

And I’m not afraid of sleeping like I used to be

I can crash into the waves let them roll over me

And the world looks so much better in sapphire green

I can hold my breath longer than I ever believed

I believe

We don’t have to hold our breaths anymore, friends. We’ll finally meet— October 12 & 13 at the Bowery Electric— and we’ll have Elizabeth & the Catapult, along with all our other brilliant acts, in the Underwater Sunmarine with us. I can’t wait to shake your hands and meet my fellow music lovers and new family members.

Elizabeth’s home on the Web
and on FB
and the Insta
and live on the Tubed You -

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