When San Diego pop songwriter Maren Parusel's gear was stolen on tour in New York City last year, she took the opportunity to revamp her guitar-driven sound with synths and a new resolve to overcome anything that stood in her way.
It's in this spirit that her sophomore full-length, Tightrope Walker (out June 19 on Requiemme Records/BMG Chrysalis), draws inspiration from two stories of triumph over forces both external and within: Nietzsche's pivotal novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Man on Wire, a documentary about legendary high-rope walker Philippe Petit, who traversed a line between the World Trade Centers (not far from where Parusel lost her gear) in 1974.
"Metaphorically, life is you walking on a tightrope," says Parusel, a Tbingen, Germany native whose debut Artificial Gardens (produced by Black Heart Procession's Pall Jenkins) won Best Pop Album at the 2011 San Diego Music Awards. "You're balanced on your own rope. You can slip and fall. This album is about believing in yourself rather than looking up to figures. It's about living your own dream."
On Tightrope Walker, Parusel finds her balance with Christopher Hoffee (Chaos Recorders), whose penchant for analog synthesizers, vintage plug-ins, and programmed beats makes for Parusel's most polished and danceable collection of dreamy pop anthems to date.
The opening and title track establishes the album's tone with straight-ahead drums, a 'verby guitar lead, and Parusel's falsetto voice (alternately reminiscent of Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino and Phantogram's Sarah Barthel) proclaiming, "When I wake up, here I am. Dreaming again."
The whimsical mood continues in the phaser-laden "Castle in the Sky," where Parusel dreams into the distance only to remember that "You belong where your heart is from."
Adorable pop jingle "The Morning Belongs to the Birds" is the album's slowest and most naked celebration of Parusel's bright-eyed optimism carried by a tom-heavy beat that invokes the first-kiss scene of every '80s movie ever made at once.
Backed by a live band of Eric Brozgold (drums), Josh Cass (guitarist from Get Back Loretta), and Kory Mcafee (bass), Parusel's lilting and occasionally coquettish melodies recently garnered attention from R.E.M.'s Mike Mills ("I loved her set") and renowned photographer BP Fallon at South by Southwest, where she was invited to an intimate 2 a.m. Mumford and Sons acoustic set also attended by Johnny Depp.
Runaways manager Kim Fowley also took notice of Parusel at Alejandro Escovedo's (brother of Requiemme manager Mario Escovedo) SXSW day party in 2010 and invited her to an audition.
Parusel's track "Days in Universe" from her debut EP of the same name (produced by Brian Karscig [Louis XIV] and released on 7" vinyl via Jackson Milgaten's [Vision of a Dying World, Cuckoo Chaos] Single Screen Records) was featured in the 2011 comedy Conception starring David Arquette.
In an open-ended expression of self-assurance and honest ambition, Maren Parusel reiterates the heart of Tightrope Walker on the album's closing song, "I'm Ready," when she declares, drenched in reverb as if imploring the fates themselves, "Hey! I'm ready for you!"