Alison May is a folk singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who has been performing, writing and recording out of Oakland, CA since relocating from Texas in 2012. Her change of scenery seemed to awaken a more layered and experimental side which is carefully captured in her sophomore release, Loved/Dark. She started tracking without any prepared arrangements and instead opted to let each track speak through experimentation. Ultimately she found the right instrumentations, making Loved/Dark the result of patient layering and wild guesses as to what would fulfil the potential of each song.
The album starts with Not Pictured, But Present which is a short yet dramatic instrumental number before My Own Good. My Own Good is the first track with vocals as Not Pictured, But Present is absent of this. My Own Good shows off May’s unusual vocals – they’re airy yet with those distinct slightly deeper, bass like tones. The song builds and becomes hectic towards the end but this just adds to the track to make it feel alive and totally real. It’s a brilliant track to have near the start of this superb album.
Helen is the opposite of My Own Good. It’s upbeat and a totally indulgent summer track. There’s inspiration taken from jazz heard on the acoustic guitar. Not only are there strong jazz elements coming forward from the acoustic guitar, the electric guitar is very apparent in this song. It’s one of the central instruments for the rhythm in most tracks but this song has the distinctive, echoing electric guitar riff carrying the melody as well as parts of the rhythm. Helen is hard to place into a genre – it’s just a feel good folk/jazz track that breaks boundaries both musically and vocally. The vocals are sketchy, wild and uncontrollable which makes this track powerful and passionate.
A few tracks on and Bad Timing makes its appearance. This song is a space filled song, if that makes sense. There’s an absence of music here. There’s the drum cymbals crashing, quite a repetitive acoustic guitar riff and a bass guitar heard on the odd note and that’s about it. This idea of exclusion of lots of instruments actually empowers this song more. It leaves room for the song to breath, to expand and to become something much more soulful. It’s simplicity at its best – at its best as it actually feels like there’s lots more going on here than there is.
Ophelia is next with its gentle, soothing, jazz inspired soft drum beat and brilliant acoustic guitar riffs. Ophelia has a breathtakingly beautiful swaying melody which only intensifies May’s unique voice.
Raft is a previous release but you’ll never get bored of hearing its beautiful slightly unusual riff on the guitar which is repeated throughout and really gets stuck in your head. This is one of the songs that you are bound to remember after hearing this record. The lyrics are sung beautifully, reminding me of an American summer road trip, running to escape from everything, “Keep out…I’ll leave town if you ever came looking for me” You can find a sense of freedom and peace in this track; it brings to mind ideas of hazy summer evenings, a love lost, a sense of a new beginning and all of this happening while being surrounded by nature and purity. It’s simply beautiful.
The end track, 10×2, is a little bit Jeff Buckley on the echoing guitar riff and the entirely solemn nature of the vocals. It’s a saddening song to end on but one that demonstrates just how triumphant an album Loved/Dark is.
Loved/Dark is out now.