Originally published on 9/3/2011 - AP is revisiting this review while our first produced music video is wrapping up.
Listening to Louise Burns' debut album - Mellow Drama makes you wonder if she is one of those "old souls" as the songs embody the emotional weight of someone twice her age. This is no doubt due to the fact that she has been in an industry that can crush creative spirits since she was eleven years old, has had major success and her share of bruises as well. In Mellow Drama, Burns has crafted a reflective body of songs that are innately rock and roll. When she croons out to "What Do You Wanna Do" (that has a kind of Buddy Holly-esque swing and sweetness) she imbues the song with a potent rockabilly swagger. The song jams with a beat that is punctuated by hand claps and punched up with a nice guitar riff. In the folk rock "Teen Angst" her cigarette smokey vocal conjures up images of a young Stevie Nicks as the shuffle beat creates a day dream dance of a song. Burns sounds vulnerable singing "Standing outside in the pouring rain, no one knows why we are built this way... can't be depressed, no I can't be insane... so why do I always feel this way" and pulls at your heartstrings when she pushes her voice into those higher registers. "Clean" is a bit psychedelic and trancy with it's guitar melody often times shadowing the vocal melody. It is a bit of Mazzy Star in tone with traces of (dare I say) Duran Duran. The chorus is lush, as is the overall production. One wonders if Burns is playing all the instruments here- as the production notes state: Burns played nearly all the instruments on the record.
This record is full of gems and "Drop Names Not Bomb" (in my mind) shines the brightest or at least casts a particularly unique glow. From the first downbeat, the keyboard progression is filled with pathos all the while kicking with energy. The cadence of the melody is bouncy but the way Burns sings "drop names not bombs... his private Vietnam... crowned with the smoke stark halo... hey this man's gonna be a star" - the words fall from her lips matter of factly like she is conversing with you at a back yard party instead of singing. Not all the songs sweep you up with their infectious energy but some of the darker songs infect you just the same. "Island Vacation" with it's one two, one two step time is a twisted little waltz of a song full of some stark imagery. This vacation sounds like a bitter affair, the lyrics hold you like a straight jacket, "I had a dream that when I was asleep someone came to my room and filmed me. Watched me toss and turn. Wonder what they learned? When I woke up my nose was bleeding" and the refrain "Lady, oh lady, who will dry your cheeks? Who will dry your cheeks? Who will pay for fancy vacations?" This dark vacation sits next to another song that has a touch of the crazies. "Sea Song" with it's faster piano waltz sound has a narcotic fairy tale feel. Another surprise is "Ocean Grey" which tonally takes a severe departure from the rest of the album. Mostly clouded in a descending keyboard riff, synth swirls and a programmed beat it is a bit of dark dream pop with a kiss of 80's new wave.
Mellow Drama casts a large stylistically diverse shadow. For Burns, who penned all the songs, with the exception of "Gypsy's Wife" (a Leonard Cohen song), Mellow Drama is a startlingly good debut album. The music is captivating and not overly produced. One thing to note is that Burns is particularly adept at writing bridges which seems to be a lost art these days. Her bridges wonderfully elevate her songs. Her melodies never fight with the music that embrace them and her lyrical content compels you to wonder about the back story behind them. During a time when many artists prefer to play in the shallow waters of pop music it is refreshing to find Louise Burns swimming past the breakers and diving in deep waters.
- Adler Bloom