BY JENNIFER KELLY
El May’s Lara Meyerratken wraps hard-won self-examinations in the frothiest of pop clothes, matching cheesy manufactured beats with hand-clapped euphoria, then slipping the knife in sideways. The proportions vary, with some songs working almost entirely on the surface, and others taking more subversive turns. The two she’s giving wide release through videos – “I Played a Role” and “Thrills” – tend towards the gossamer end of things, but there’s meatier, more interesting fare here as well.
Meyerrratken has had her greatest success writing music for commercials, so unsurprisingly, there’s a Q-tested pop sheen glossing over these songs. Yet like the famous ice cube, her songs hide subliminal messages, providing fleeting glimpses of self-doubt and bad judgment in a melting bath of liquid pop. In “Diamonds, Girl” she converses with the Pierce’s Allison Pierce about an unsatisfactory lover, protecting herself in one verse, getting called on her bullshit (by Pierce in the next. This all happens amid lush b-girl harmonies and skritchy beats, in a setting that is stripped down but by no means simple.
On guitar heavy songs like “Lessons and Appear” and “My Policeman’s an Addict,” Meyeratken sounds noisily, brassily unbowed, standing just to the pop side of Speedy Ortiz and slightly to the 1990s indie-rock-left of Neko Case. “You wanted power, turn up the electricity,” she advises on “Lessons Appear,” an older-and-wiser recounting of a Eurail pass summer affair. She’s wry and self-aware as she contemplates her innocence, but the innocence lurks, wearing a young-ish midriff top, in the songs corners.
The last three songs, and especially the last, take some chances with structure in a way that is decidedly not either pop or ad-friendly – and perhaps this is why I like them best. “Diagnoses for the Doctor” mocks a know it all lover, who knows best about everything, except he doesn’t. Meyerratken’s rebellion is subtle, sly and not quite angry. She admits that, after everything, “We all want to get home at the end of the day.”
The last song “Oh Get Carried” starts in the kind of harp-aspiring synthesizer arpeggios that typically usher in dream sequences on TV sitcoms like Gilligan’s Island, a lush – let’s say over-lush – beginning that circles excess and then falls right in. But don’t count this writer out, she emerges half way through in a wonderfully abrupt shift to hand-clapped euphoria. It’s like hearing the Lawrence Welk Orchestra discovering Afro-beat – and also wonderful.
The main problem is that El May can’t resist embellishment, adding on swoops and swoons and furbelows, even as she’s lacerating herself lyrically. It’s a weird combination, intermittently compelling, but I’d like to see her get as real musically as she is with words.
DOWNLOAD: “Diagnoses for the Doctor,” “Oh Get Carried”