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Jessica Lea Mayfield - Make My Head Sing

"Make My Head Sing"

Release date: 02 June 2014
Jessica Lee Mayfield Make My Head Sing
30 May 2014, 11:30 Written by Michael James Hall
Since being taken under the wing of Black Key Dan Auerbach following the self-release of her limited run EP White Lies Jessica Lea Mayfield has carved herself a promising reputation in alternative country circles. Her 2008 album With Blasphemy So Heartfelt and its follow-up, 2011’s Tell Me held a melancholic acoustic charm that was overseen, teased out even, by her mentor Auerbach.

It’s clear within seconds that Make My Head Sing has little in common with her previous work (other than a knack for simple, somnambulant tunes) – a break from Auerbach clearly representing an opportunity for Mayfield to reassess her genre and, expressly, get really fuckin’ loud.

”Oblivious” serves both as an introduction to and microcosm of the new sonic world Mayfield has entered – screaming, distorted guitar scraping over flat-out shed-thumping drums, Mayfield’s reverb-shrouded voice a distant, plaintive hum. While the none-more straightforward structure and racket-driven rickety performance could come across as workmanlike its more likely genuine homage – coupled with an addictive if slight melody.

On slacker-pop treat “I Wanna Love You” we get half of the riff from Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper” married to a disturbing, stalking lyric – “I have visions in my brain that are different from the truth” Mayfield mutters, adding “I’m insane…You’re gonna find this out” for good measure. Her voice is stoned, casually sinister, the instrumentation entirely functional – no frills and no bullshit. While Mayfield may be namechecking Dave Grohl as an influence there are moments here that could have just as easily been inspired by the likes of Beat Happening or even The Chills – not necessarily in that league, a touch diluted but present nonetheless.

This 80s indie-love comes out clearest on “Do I Have The Time”, which has a classy Postcard jangle – albeit with added bite and smarts: “He’s seeing other women and she’s seeing women too/Now that’s fine for him and her and her and her too” Mayfield notes playfully. The addition of a keyboard resolutely set to “Fake Orchestra” helps this one rise above just a touch more.

Unfortunately “Pure Stuff” is lumped with a riff that Courtney Love would’a shied away from at her lowest moments – even with Mayfield’s cloudy vocals it’s a grungey mis-step. The Cobainisms of “No Fun”, replete with complaining “I never did want nothing/‘Cos everything makes me mad” are tiresome. The mind wanders the further down this road Mayfield goes.

Happily the warm glow of “Standing In The Sun”, all hazy harmonies and reed-thin guitar is equaled by the sparse balladry of “Party Drugs” with its downbeat romance (“It’s sweet you see if I’m still breathing” and “I won’t die in this hotel room” are two particularly choice observations), a true ‘90s cassette compilation closer if ever there was one.

The most musically accomplished (though we’re sure that’s hardly the point) moment here is on “Unknown Big Secret”, which offers a bout of Wye Oak-like scorching paranoia with a searing, emotive guitar part that’s intent on eyebrow removal, while the most sonically interesting is undoubtedly “Seein* Starz” – all synths, delay and skip-along drums dripping in the fog of atmosphere, bursting with tragic-comic lines like “You said to me romantically/Together we would always share a life of pain and infinite sadness” it’s a step aside from the sparse Seattle tones of much of the rest of the record.

Mayfield only plays occasionally to her strengths on this release – there’s no question her talent lies in the tuneful and atmospheric – yet her desire to step on the distortion and pay tribute to rock bands of yore isn’t necessarily anything to be sniffed at. There’s a definite legitimacy in simply hearing what you love and wishing to act it out for yourself. That’s not to say Mayfield is guilty of plagiarism but this is an album of many delectable moments that on more than one occasion suffers for its debts to the past.

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