As promised, I’m presenting my review of Leah Pape’s album, Not What I Meant. It’s taken me a little while to build the momentum to write this, as I have found myself torn between my desire to share this music with everyone, and having to open myself up and leave myself vulnerable before the music’s effect on me, especially with repeated listenings, as I try to write something more intelligible than, “I like it. Made me smile.” As I mentioned in my review of Girlfiend’s EP, I am receiving absolutely no compensation for this review, and, unlike with the Girlfiend EP, I actually put down my own cash to buy this album. It goes without saying, therefore, in this world of rampant piracy, and a policy of “Pay What You Want”, that the cheapest guy I know choosing to drop real dollars on this means that I kind of liked it. That being said, I will spend the rest of these words trying to explain what I especially liked about these eight songs, and why I think that you all should give them a listen, and then go and spend some of your own money to help support this artist. Let’s try and help her earn the same tens of dollars that I made! Also, as I said in my last column, I will be selecting a winner at random from those who choose to comment on this post to win a copy of this album. Here is a link to her Bandcamp page (for ease of purchase), her Facebook page (show your support and give her a “Like”), and I will put a link to each song in its title so that you can listen along while you read my words.
Let the analyzation begin:
Not What I Meant
April 13, 2014
The first time I heard this song, I commented that it felt like a Feist cover of Somewhere Over The Rainbow. As I have been told on many occasions by both Fed and Bad Leon Suave, I tend to make connections that no one else seems to see, so I’m not really expecting anyone else to see it. Even the artist herself commented that it was “different” description of it than she was used to. Not to spoil the rest of the album, but this is probably my favorite of the eight tracks. It is concise, beautiful, and soulful. When I first mentioned this artist to Bad Leon, he expressed his interest in her, if only because he felt that if I liked her stuff, she must have good lyrics, and this song has magnificent lyrical phrasing, especially in the second verse. And her singing, while lacking the polish of seasoned veteran, is still capable of conveying an emotional charge.
Of all the songs on this album, this is the one with which I felt the least connection. There is a lot of potential, but for me, the fluctuation between the high notes and a drop to almost spoken word were a little jarring. I do like that there is a kind of disjointed feeling, like it’s all held together by duct tape, tears, and raw determination, while backed by the slightest hint of depression put to music. Perhaps it’s just that it starts a little… off… for me. It does twirl in upon itself as the song progresses, and finds a thrust of inspired beauty, but never manages to reconcile the emptiness of the vocals with the minimal backing of the guitar. Actually, now that I’ve said all of that, I may have to admit that this is almost a perfect example of what the emptiness of loneliness feels like in those quiet hours all alone. I mean, it’s still never going to be my go-to song off the album, but I can definitely respect it.
Let me get this out of the way: It is a bit jarring the way she sings “traverse.” Again, there is the switching between singing and spoken word, and it works as a performance piece, but on its own seems to lose some of its impact. Its secret weapon however, is its chorus. Like a pair of diamonds in the rough, her abilities as a wordsmith shine through as she throws together words like woven or spun armor which protects her as it swirls about her in a mesmerizing flow wordplay. Again, there are a couple of missed notes, or, perhaps those were intentional, but, rather than detract too much from the overall aesthetic, they hint towards the future growth of the artist and the promise which her handful of years upon this earth have only begun to grow toward.
This is the one that I think of as her Simon and Garfunkel track. A little Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. mixed together with some Feeling Groovy. Despite my complaints over the past couple of songs, I really do like the moments here when she drops from singing to speaking. They add a wonderful punctuation to the melody. Again, there are a couple of moments when she doesn’t quite nail the note she was aiming to hit, but, as I have said, that, in and of itself adds a humanity to her music in this world of digital perfection, and when she really throws herself into it, there is a raw power which is a thing of beauty all on its own. A minor note: I can tell she’s East Coast from her pronunciation of “whore.” This is a hard song. While there are themes that I can relate to, as a human being who has been hurt, but there are also some things which, as a male, I haven’t really had to deal with. “I guess that’s why you left me/ now I’m a whore.” While I cannot speak to her personal experiences, I have seen on more than one occasion that the virtue of an ex-girlfriend is called into question upon the end of a relationship. Ex-boyfriends are often Bastards, or Assholes, or Dicks, but none of those really has the same effect upon the subject as does a Whore, Slut, or Bitch. I could be overreaching here, as I often do, but that line just kind of stuck with me.
If I were to give this song an alternate title, I would call it “The Other Side of Friend Zone.” This is a painfully honest look at a breakup from a female perspective. There have been countless euphemistic breakup songs, but nothing so arresting as “I can’t tell if it’s him I miss/ or just a cuddle and a kiss.” Maybe I’ll lose some of my “man-cred” here, though my countless nerd treatises on Star Trek probably did that long ago, but I have felt that particular sentiment several times before. Moving on, or trying to, is one of the hardest things to do, and it makes one question everything about themselves.
The opening guitar part on this song makes me want to curl up into a little ball and cry for a week or so. Sparse. Sad. Of course, it picks up and lends a sense of false optimism, like a face one puts on to face the world. It leads me to believe that December might not be the month for anybody. I am afraid to keep going, for the fear of transferring too much of myself onto my listening. Like the best of art, Ms. Pape has the uncanny ability to make us feel.
This one actually might be tied with Passing Craze for my favorite of her songs. The scenes she paints are vivid, like running tears upon velvet, and the heartbreak and disappointment are plainly tangible. More than any other song on this album, this one makes me want to drag her into a full, professional recording studio and giving her the equipment to fully compliment her abilities. “Seek comfort in me.” The loves which could, but truly couldn’t ever be. The magic beneath the moonlight, and the sobering terror which accompanies the day, and the way that it so casually dismisses the enchantments of the evenings before.
At first glance, what truly stands out about this song is the juxtaposition between the driving, insistent prodding and surety of the guitar against the hesitant uncertainty of the vocals. Like the words are being drawn out of her while she is marched toward a moment of confrontation. With each step, she builds confidence, knowing her fate. The guitar falls away to something more melodic, as she counters with what feels like a comforting lullaby to her inner demons. The ticking of a clock. Marching again, this time faster, more insistent. She has accepted her journey, and walks beside her tormentor, grateful, at last, for the company.
And that’s it. Overall, as I may have said, I like it. It holds up well together, truly anchored by its first and penultimate songs. Taken together, it is a portrait of a young woman with an older soul who has decided that she’s earned the right to have something to say. She takes small moments and expands them until we see that the most seemingly insignificant incidents are perhaps the most important. There are examples of pure poetry in her lyrics, and I am confident that as she continues writing and recording, we will only see her talent grow.
Now, as I promised, the contest: Please leave a comment below about which song was your favorite. A winner will be selected at random to receive a copy of this album.