It's often said that the true test of an artist's worth arrives on their second album, when they have to prove that their first was no fluke. By that measure, Natalie Walker has succeeded wildly with her sophomore effort With You, a startling maturation from the former lead singer of Daughter Darling.
Expanding the strengths of her first solo album, 2006's Urban Angel, With You is a cool, elegant collection of ethereal songs with a warm beating heart, music that retains the stylish, spacey vibe of her debut while revealing an accentuated pop flavor. This is music that's insinuating and alluring, seductive yet sweet, an album that is poised to make Natalie Walker a breakout star, the kind of electronica singer/songwriter whose music is inescapable. Of course, Walker already has been hard to ignore, as Urban Angel penetrated the mass consciousness, earning strong reviews from Billboard, Urb, Trace and All Music Guide, as such singles as "No One Else" and "Quicksand" received heavy rotation. Another sign of how Urban Angel struck a universal chord is how its songs kept popping up in films and movies, starting with Sofia Coppola's use of a Thievery Corporation remix of "Quicksand" in Marie Antoinette, then spreading to the television hits Ugly Betty and Grey's Anatomy.
All this acclaim and exposure raised the stakes for With You, and Natalie Walker responded by deepening her music, expanding her horizons while digging deep into her soul. Once again, she teamed with the Brooklyn-based Stuhr – the same duo that produced her debut – which gives With You a sonic throughline with Urban Angel, but Natalie and Stuhr were not complacent, they opened up new sonic vistas on this second record.
Alternately introspective and sleekly stylish, With You is a subtly adventurous album, one that is immediately appealing yet reveals more with each listen. Such complex, intertwined textures are surely a progression from Urban Angel but moving forward was not necessarily easy. “A sophomore record is really tough,” Walker admits. “I had no idea how difficult it would be. I know I wanted give myself some room to experiment with a lighter and more upbeat sound, but it was really challenging for me to keep things simple. I wanted to force myself to get out of my comfort zone – and I did.”
Indeed, some of the best moments on With You find Natalie stepping out of her comfort zone, weaving gently insistent pop hooks into her graceful electronica, as on "Ordinary," which has a nearly New Wave sparkle, or on "Over and Under," a melodic, rhythmic chill-out track that's rightly the album's first single.
With You is graced with poppy singles – songs that can pull in a broader audience without alienating her devoted fans – but it hardly stays in one spot. Natalie agrees “the first half of the album is pretty upbeat but as you listen, it brings you back to the soft and serious side of my first album.” With their graceful, meditative lilt – equal parts folky dream-pop and electronic elegance – “Monarch” and “By and By” are reminiscent of her debut but like everything here, the music and the emotions are heightened, which may be why "With You" is the title track, as it has a real emotional pull: “’With You’ is about real love – a love that gets stronger with patience and working through life together."
That genuine emotional connection is what drives Natalie Walker to make music. “I want to write songs that stick with people. It’s incredible to receive emails from people telling me that a certain song moved them or really connected to their life at the time they heard it. It’s why artists write. We want to feel like what we’re doing means something.” It's hard not to listen to With You and not feel that Natalie Walker is indeed making music that means something.
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