January 23, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: A Problem Like Maria - Lagniappe (2013)

It’s hard to pin down what A Problem Like Maria (APLM) would do next. It wasn’t even a year ago when she stormed the internet landscape with the release of her lo-fi hiphop album 99 Problems And Maria Is 1. A couple of months after the release of her debut, which barely even dented into public consciousness save for a few online scribes and curios, APLM dropped Saudade—a collection of stripped down folk-pop tunes that, for the first time, showcased her chops as a singer-songwriter. Her deliberate decision to distance from the urban-leaning jungle of 99 came out as a bit of surprise, because we know she’s a big hiphop enthusiast and even finds time writing about it on a local music website. “This one is anything but, which is probably confusing for some. I've always had trouble sticking to a genre,” APLM waxes excited on an interview. “But there's a perverse sort of thrill in what I'm doing.”

On the new album Lagniappe, APLM returns as the unpredictable post-internet pixie that she is, combining the feral highs of art-damaged pop with electronic textures, laptop spooks, triphop beats, and light industrial touches, often recalling a low-key version of The Knife or Nite Jewel. That’s not to say that APLM has veered away completely from the music she’s made before: we can still hear the soul-inflected hiphop beats of 99 minus the MCing, and for those people who quite enjoyed her attempts at introspection in Saudade, you guys don’t have to worry. APLM still writes intimate songs that have more to offer over time. The only difference is that Lagniappe doesn’t box itself to a specific sound or mood.

Sure it’s got some difficulty figuring out where to go next, but as you delve deeper into the direction that Lagniappe is heading to, you’ll realize APLM does everything the right way, walking barefoot while allowing herself to get lost in loops and trails. With the help of her collaborator-friends from all over the world, APLM blurs the genre lines to produce an effortlessly effervescent laptop-pop that nurtures a variety of futurist soundscapes.

Some of the finest tracks in the album are “Christopher,” where she sings over stuttering, robo-funk beats and innocuous synth riffs, the Portishead-dripping “Best Friend,” the hazy, string-laden ballad “Steal Your Heart,” and the demented avant-R&B “Petrichor” in which producer StratosFear pounds seismic synth pulse and ghostly clatters like it's about to cause tremors with every little stroke of movement. But the album's best track belongs to “When You’re Sober," ideally the most accessible among the bunch. It’s catchy and sweet, fun and breezy, providing the kind of sing-along pulled from the minty sun. It’s the same kind of feeling you get when you listen to Chairlift’s “I Belong In Your Arms” or Camera Obscura’s “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken” and when it ends in twinkly guitar fizz, you’re left with a single option of raping the repeat button again and again, until you succumb completely to its heavenly flourish.

After listening to the album, one might ask: “How could APLM get away with something unfocused but beautifully diverse as this?” Boy, let me get it straight. Lagniappe is the moment when APLM no longer gives a fuck about what people say. She makes music that refused to be defined and stopped, breaking into various sound designs that navigate in suspended air freely above us. The more you dip your ears into it, the more you’d discover her world of canned frequencies— that kind of product that remains interesting and exciting even if it’s created behind a trinket of a computer and then some. B+ 

You can download APLM's Lagniappe for free here.

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