23 August 2015

cry baby || melanie martinez || 2015

Growing up sucks, dude, especially if your family makes you feel unsupported or unloved or unwanted. I know nothing about Martinez's personal experiences in her youth, but the lyrical content of her debut album certainly indicates that she understands these struggles and wants those stuck in these homes to know that someone empathizes.

The album wastes no time getting into the circus/dollhouse theme, opening with the merry-go-round xylophone melody at the top of the album's title track. Martinez expresses frustration bordering on rage at her feelings being dismissed by an unnamed entity -- parents? A callous lover? Inattentive friends? Herself? It doesn't really matter -- the song's focus is her feelings of confusion and self-doubt as she works through her sadness alone.

"Dollhouse" is the first time we blatantly hear a family dynamic at play. She sings about being forced to smile in a family portrait while lamenting that life with her family once the camera is shut off is certainly not something to smile about. No doubt her younger fans will find this to be one of the more relatable tracks.

Martinez tackles alcoholism and addiction in "Sippy Cup." There are many songs about the horrors of addiction and the futility of intoxication when it comes to solving actual problems, but she found a creative way to tie it in with her album's overall theme. The same goes for "Carousel," which takes on the even more common theme of unrequited love - but again cleverly woven into the dollhouse theme.

"Soap" is the album's high point. It's about that moment immediately after something leaves your mouth and you wish it hadn't -- when your chest tightens and your heart swells and you can feel hot liquid rising in your throat. My favorite thing about it, though, is the meticulous production. Structurally, the song's "chorus" doesn't even have any words - just carefully-toned bubbles popping - and it's incredibly effective. It's also the best overall showcase of her powerful vocal range.

I had to listen to "Pity Party" a couple of times before it grew on me, as it samples what is, in my opinion, the greatest pop song of all time, and that is NOT to be taken lightly. Upon reflection, though, it's not an overused sample, and it ties in well with her voice, the album's theme, and the song's production.

"Mrs. Potato Head" is another difficult theme creatively spun into the childlike nature of the album. It's about plastic surgery, and she certainly doesn't pull punches about which side of the "is plastic surgery healthy" debate she falls on. The potato metaphor is a little silly at times (especially when she starts the bit about french fries and condiments), but it really does work in the context of the album.

This is a very strong debut, if not a slightly immature one. I'm excited to see how Martinez grows as an artist and I hope she continues to stay true to herself.


two turntables and a saxophone - two turntables and a saxophone - 2005

I did not appreciate this album nearly enough when my immature ears first heard it a decade ago. It's a well-executed fusion of jazz, house, and ambient sounds that has a kind of snarky sheen that makes it just cool enough to play at a party or to be featured as the soundtrack of a gritty cop drama that takes place in a futuristic dystopian city.

We open with "At Peace," which features a serious, monotone vocal sample scattered among the titular turntables and sax. It feels like the opening credits of a neo-noir film. "Passion," which follows, is another slow-burner à la some of Daft Punk's downtempo stuff (but with scratching and a sax).

"What If" is where we first hear the clearest attempt at straightforward jazz, with the sax melody at the forefront.

"Open Heart" takes a turn into something much more electronic. The sax is absent, and it's driven by computerized synth melodies and plunky air-puff snare sounds.

"Falling Up" and "Listen" are both ambient tracks, mixing in some woodwind sounds amid the scratching and beats. They recall early-'90s new age tracks.

The vocal samples return on "World Within," which quickly becomes a midtempo synth-rock groove, with the saxophone once again leading the melody.

This is a well-executed experiment and a great listen for a comfortable, chillout evening (maybe even an in-house date!), but I don't think there would have been more than one album worth of material here. For the one, though, I am grateful!