Yamagata seems to be a real artist who doesn't seem to consider commercial viability as her first priority. She recently released a double album, the first disc which is entitled Elephants, the second, Teeth Sinking Into Heart.
Her first solo album Happenstance had the piano, strings, and guitar, along with the hooks and choruses. It was ultimately a pop album, but had an unmistakable "mature" sound to it; she carved a niche for herself in the adult alternative realm, as well as the pop realm, through the use of affective lyrics over catchy tunes that blurred the line between rock and traditional singer-songwriter material. I feel sorry for the people who have never heard of Yamagata, because that album was so damn good.
Elephants is slow, soft and relatively quiet. It's composed of Yamagata's smokey vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, and a lot of strings. Most of Elephants is like Yamagata's airy voice, breathed out as a wisp of smoke that gently wafts through the air, shaped by the slight vibrations from a slowly-beating heart.
Teeth Sinking Into Heart is its antithesis. Electric guitars, drums, and a more forced voice leaves Rachael's mouth. Like a heart that's been ripped out; still warm. Raw.
Yamagata plays the piano and/or acoustic guitar on every track, and she arranged many of the song's string/brass/woodwind parts. She's backed by a powerhouse of talented musicians that give this album a very sophisticated and impressively orchestrated feel.
This album doesn't really fit into a mold, and is an obvious break from Yamagata's brief past. It's clear she wanted to try something different, because this effort, four years later, is very different. An experimental album. Love it or hate it. She gives you two choices, to better her odds: Elephants is the white to Teeth's black. The quiet to the loud. An elephant to a tiger.
I should mention that "Duet" is a song she did with Ray Lamontagne, and it's pretty good. Also, the entire first disc may be mostly quiet, but it certainly has its moments; she never lets the music become stagnant. Above all, I must stress one thing: the brilliance of the opening and title track, Elephants. This was immediately, and remains, one of my favorite songs that I've heard in a very long time. It floors me. It is incredibly heavy, genuine, and poignant. It is Yamagata at her absolute best. The rest of the album has flashes of its brilliance but ultimately cannot (how could it) live up. If you're on the fence, listen to some samples, or honestly just buy this one song.