wears the trousers magazine

scary mansion: make me cry (2009)
November 30, 2009, 8:45 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , ,

Scary Mansion
Make Me Cry ••½
Zum / Talitres

Scary Mansion is the pseudonym of Brooklyn-based Leah Hayes, a woman whose music has thus far dwelt rather aptly in places just as dark and uncanny. Her 2008 debut Every Joke Is Half The Truth was a brooding, antifolk trip to some decidedly gloomy vicinities, very much reminiscent of Cat Power’s Moonpix-era output. Though the album was perfectly competent and enjoyable, Hayes was unable to extricate herself from Cat Power’s trademark style, creating songs that felt far too familiar to be truly exciting. For an artist with Hayes’s creative flare (she is also an author and illustrator), it was a disappointing first effort.

It’s with some unease then that the first few seconds of Make Me Cry are absorbed. Opening track ‘No Law’ begins with drawling feedback that suggests more of the same lo-fi indie that Hayes previously dabbled in. But it seems that the Scary Mansion sequel houses a particularly surprising monster, as the track lurches into a riotous synth-driven indie-pop song that is nothing short of anthemic. A joyful song that’s as fun as it is whimsical, it showcases just how comfortable Hayes is to be backed by a troupe of noise-making boys. ‘Over The Week End’ follows suit. What begins as a fragile trio of Hayes’s voice, tragic strings and gentle guitar picks up pace with the introduction of Ben Shapiro’s excitable drumming, giving the song a new direction that’s buoyant if a little predictable, sounding not dissimilar to ‘No Law’ but lacking its power.

By the fifth track, ‘One Percent’, Hayes’s recipe of a subdued opening leading into a generically rousing finale starts to become something of a blight on the album. What started off as a welcome departure from the first album’s introspection gets gradually tiresome as the formula is repeated again and again with very little deviation. Where an album of feedback-driven indie-pop could be thrilling, Hayes cannot seem to wrench much originality from the formula. ‘One Percent’ begins as a pretty finger-picked piece but, as Hayes herself seems to acknowledge as she sings, “And even though it hasn’t happened yet, I know that it will,” the loud guitars and stadium-rock drumming barge in to trample over her otherwise delicate songcraft and wry lyricism.

These songs do showcase Hayes’s exceptional vocal talents, her fragile drawl belying a power similar to that of Karen O’s. But while the songs on offer are evocative of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ flair for melody and composition, Hayes fails to craft anything particularly memorable. It’s perhaps telling that the standout track is ‘Scum Inside’, a song that first appeared on Every Joke Is Half The Truth and actually benefits from the aforementioned formula. What was previously a sparse arrangement of strings and vocals is now augmented by indie-rock guitars, vigorous drums and Hayes beautifully harmonising over the whole ensemble.

While not all the tracks follow this blueprint (‘On My Mind’ is a lonely piano track amidst its noisy brethren, and bonus track ‘Look Through Your Eyes’ features an unexpectedly menacing synth and drum-machine combo), the album’s biggest failure is its lack of variety. With so tight a band behind her, Hayes could only benefit from greater experimentation. As it stands, this is one creepy chateau she has yet to find her place in.

Terry Mulcahy
UK release date: 26/10/09; www.myspace.com/scarymansion


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