Sacha Sacket has one of those phone book/grocery list voices — he can sing a [phone book/grocery list] and it would sound … yeah, you’ve read that comparison before.
Sacket’s previous album, Shadowed, found him diving head-long into electronic effects. It couldn’t be described in any of the usual dance music terms, since the foundation for his songs is the poignant piano ballad. What resulted was a distinct work, moody and atmospheric without getting excessively maudlin or pretentious about it.
As wonderful as that exploration of synthetic sound was, there was always a nagging suspicion that Sacket would sound great in a live setting. Thankfully, that’s what he offers with Lovers and Leaders. The electronics have been drastically cut to make room for more guitars and fewer drum machines.
He doesn’t even add very many guitars — just a pair of acoustic strumming on either side of the stereo field, or an electric with lots of reverb at a song’s climax. Even that subtle change opens up his music a lot more, giving his songs a commercial sheen.
"Judy (for shame)", the first single off the album, would not find much of a home on Shadowed. The only keyboard on the song is Sacket’s piano, and the song itself sounds like an honest bid for radio play. (Not a crass bid, mind you.)
"How Low" and "What You Are" also keep the synthetic sounds to a minimum, if not ban them entirely.
Sacket doesn’t totally abandon the atmosphere of his previous album. "Brandon Boyd" uses a distorted rhythm and sparse instrumentation to suit the menace of the lyrics, while "Stay" falls back on the piano and strings prevalent on Shadowed.
Sacket’s voice is as expressive as ever, smooth in the higher range, resonant in the lower range. There’s just one major trade-off for the live sound — the songs feel a bit too uniform.
Skip from track to track, and the tempo doesn’t change very much. On Shadowed, faster songs got more intense with sparser arrangements, while slower songs became dense with lots of strings or effects.
Lovers and Leaders is even-keeled throughout, and the songs threaten to blend into one another. "Brandon Boyd" has a compelling story, and "Judy (for shame)", a live feel. Aside from those tracks, it took a few listens before each song stood apart from the other.
Still, Sacket’s voice and the live playing make the album enjoyable. Listeners who enjoyed Shadowed may have to work a bit to get the same pay off from Lovers and Leaders.