|Image from leliabroussard.com|
One way to overcome uninterested audience members is to be so talented that the crowd immediately connects with your music even if you’re singing about a robot falling in love. And with her latest studio release, Lelia Broussard won’t have to put up with inattentive crowds for much longer.
Inattention to Amazement
At the Atlanta stop on the Quest for Glory Tour 2 featuring Allison Weiss, Bess Rogers, and Broussard, I showed up to hear the two acts not named Lelia. Although not technically tabbed as the opening act, Broussard did perform first. Despite having a devoted online following (you don’t get over four million YouTube views without serious fans), I had never previously heard of Ms. Broussard. Thus to my embarrassment, I was (like an inattentive idiot) playing with my phone as Lelia took the stage.
However, from the moment her set began, the young performer held the full attention of the entire audience with her clear, powerful voice. Combining genuine, catchy lyrics along with her electric guitar, Broussard’s performance prompted me to pick up her Waiting for the 9 EP. Despite enjoying the track “Don’t Let Go,” I needed to hear a full length album to see if Ms. Broussard could translate her radiating live energy into an engaging studio effort.
With Masquerade, her fifth studio release, Broussard has done just that. Partnering with producer Dan Romer of Ingrid Michaelson and Jenny Owen Youngs fame, Lelia delivers an appealing album that focuses on the various entangling aspects of growing up or wavering between love and heartbreak. Like a talented actress providing depth and nuance to a character, Broussard deftly navigates the range of emotions from silly, uncomplicated love (“Satellite”) to unabashed disgust with a former flame’s partner (“Hipster Bitch”). Broussard invites her listeners into her regrets, struggles, and self-realizations while showing impressive vocal control. Also, Broussard’s heavy use of the electric guitar marks her as unique in the world of solo female artists that lead with the piano such as Sara Barellies; acoustic guitar like Weiss and Youngs; or a variety of instruments such as Michaelson.
Now, for my quick takes on the tracks:
Despite beginning with a driving beat from the kick-drum, Broussard’s delivery is subdued on the title track of the album. Her lyrics accuse the object of her affection of hiding behind a cold exterior in order to mask his feelings or imply he is a deep person. While there is anger here, it’s restrained without wallowing in self-pity. The upbeat rhythm and controlled anger hint at a budding emotion that will show up brash and unmasked on the album’s final track.
For musicians, there is a fine line between silly/clever (Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours”) and indulgent/inane (Beyonce’s “Diva”). Broussard walks that line perfectly in a delightfully happy song about a robot in love. With hand claps and smart goofy lyrics, Broussard has created a track that captures the cheesy, unapologetic joy of being in love. This is the most fun I’ve had thinking about robots in love since Wall-E clumsily chased EVE across the galaxy.
Shoot For the Moon
With Bess Rogers providing beautiful backing vocals, Ms. Broussard gives listeners a quick snapshot of her life and a simple mission statement for herself as she moves forward. She gently lets down her unmotivated well-to-do lover while affirming her desire to pursue her musical dreams, no matter how lofty they may be. The autobiographical lyrics combined with a soothing melody offer a genuine feel to a very hopeful song.
Combined with “Shoot for the Moon,” “Spiderwebs” finds Lelia longing for freedom and wanting nothing more than to follow the burning desires of her heart. A song that is neither slow nor particularly fast, Broussard’s voice creates a contemplative mood as she reflects on growing up and avoiding the entanglements of young love in light of pursuing her dreams.
Armor on My Heart
The first song about heartbreak, Broussard’s voice takes center stage in this heart-wrenching tale about her own struggle to turn away from someone who has hurt her many times. A track that feels like it could easily be a blues tune, “Armor on My Heart” is Broussard trying to convince herself that she has moved on from a previous relationship. The lines about scars and not looking back are as much protection for her own psyche as they are an explanation of why she cannot love this person anymore.
You’re Not Fooling Anyone
Everything works here on the best produced song on the album. Broussard’s voice ranges from soft and longing to powerful and confident as she sings about looking back on self-delusion in a relationship. The song begins with muted drums and a faint guitar and then swells to a full sound with a steady rhythm and uplifting backing vocals that have a church choir feel. If “Armor on My Heart” is guarded and unsure about trusting yourself, the full effect of all the elements give “You’re Not Fooling Anyone” a sense of freedom and resolve.
Throughout Masquerade, Broussard sings about the resolve to pursue her musical dreams at the expense of any relationship. On “Heart Collectors” Broussard trades in her typical electric guitar for an acoustic one that gives this track a more personal feel. While her earlier forays into heartbreak on the album have emotional weight (her voice and writing ability do not allow her to write an insubstantial song), this track explores the consequences about the state of a heart that has always chosen goals over love. This song may tell the story of the young performer, but for anyone with ambitious goals (whatever they may be), this song presents a familiar reminder of the dilemma between personal longings and professional dreams.
Broussard returns to her electric guitar and the tempo picks back up with a more noticeable beat and a catchy chorus that uses an effective stutter. Lyrically, “Rosey” is a perfect fit at this point on the album. The preceding tracks center on reflecting and looking back over past relationships or decisions. As if commenting on her own reflections, Broussard warns against the natural inclination to use 20/20 hindsight to examine our lives. While our memories may use rose-colored glasses, Broussard tells us that we are responsible for filling the holes in our lives ouselves.
Although every track on Masquerade is well constructed lyrically, Broussard does not offer any answers. Instead, the album feels like a pause, a moment to reflect on the past and think about the future. Nowhere is that more evident than on “Something True.” A song about an on and off again relationship, the track finds Lelia in ‘the relationship’ again and she has reached an epiphany: She may not be ready to move forward but she, herself, has changed. While the muted guitar connotes a sense of quiet deliberation, Broussard’s voice reveals the power of the realization that the relationship is no longer what she wants.
Except for her venture into robot love, Broussard is controlled and contemplative until this final track. “Hipster B****” shows Broussard’s angry side as she demeans the object of affection for her former flame. As explored in this article in the New York Times, hipster is a loaded word. Having been a performing artist that has lived in LA and New York, Lelia has most likely been called a hipster several times in her life. However, as Broussard uses the term in this song, hipster suggests a flighty, loose female with artificial depth. Far and away the most fun on the album, the combination of Broussard’s anger and her guitar prove she could try her hand at blues anytime she wants.
While Broussard remains, as her website comically states, “an underpaid full-time musician,” her career does have a decided positive trajectory. Oftentimes, you can gauge the potential of an artist by the producers that agree to work with them. In her career, Broussard has partnered with Rob Fusari, a producer with Destiny’s Child and Lady Gaga. She has also collaborated with Dave Trumfio who has produced Wilco and My Morning Jacket.
Holding to that theory and in light of the highly enjoyable Masquerade, Lelia has shown the talent necessary to ensure that concert goers will, and the music listening public should, take notice.
A note from the FoW editor: T.S. ended 2010 with a music review and agreed to begin 2011 with another album review. Fistful of Reviews typically runs on Sundays. Topics can cover books, film, music, and even restaurants. If you’d like to hear our thoughts on a specific topic please email the editor at the address to the left.
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