After the more muddy synth pop rock approach of “Violent Sky”, Lisa Miskovsky returns with a more traditional pop rock album in Umea which feels familiar to fans and if anything, this is the softest work since Fallingwater. It’s a celebratory album that’s full of warmth and joy and is named after her home-town.
Opener “Rain, Rain, Rain” introduces you to smooth vocals and catchy confident melodies and hooks. Her penchant for being able to write an effortlessly swaying chorus is undiminished as she keeps her poppy lyrics with “You were always sunshine while I was always rain, rain, rain.” Some people will be put off by these lyrics but I quite enjoy them! It’s funny because its a level above most pop because she plays instruments , helps write the tracks and when you do it all, that elevates some of her more mainstream tropes. Umea as an album is more organic than her previous work and only light synths feather the background over the guitars, drums and layered vocals. “Wild Winds” have an epic feel with the lack of deep bass giving way to the tom drum rolls that punch through the mix. It has little quirky instruments that provide mini riffs between anthemic choruses. The lack of crunch in the guitars is something new for Lisa and this makes for a smoother, poppier overall feel. “Slip Away” has a warm fuzzy production given to the open strums and echoing percussion. It feels like you’ve fallen into fluffy pillows and everything needs to be cuddled. It’s the first slower track but is a stand out. “Tougher Than Most” has an amazing chorus that is something you imagine singing along on in a pub to or at a stadium. The production is more glittery than usual but it’s still very warm and catchy and a special shout out to the vocal layering and the call responses towards the end – it’s divine.
“Waiting For Our Time to Come”for some reason reminds me of old 70’s Christmas songs that would have a certain shimmer and punch drum. This mid tempo song sounds like the keyboards and guitars want to be steel drums. It’s the albums sweet track and it fits the bill beautifully. “into The Light” is pure pop rock at its best. From the chopped up vocals being made to the melodic hook to the hand claps to the big piano and wailing background guitars, it’s a perfectly crafted track and is one of my favourite songs of 2013.
“I Am I” is another track that just grabs you. It’s cheeky flamenco maracas to break up its skipping time signature make you smile and shake in this confident and joyous track (on the surface at least anyway). Lisa in this album has really managed to craft a streamlined sound but actually uses a lot of instruments and quirks to do so and this track is the best example of it. There’s big chords being pushed forward but there’s so much going in the quieter sounds behind the music I discover new things each time I listen. That’s class. “Why Start A Fire” is the electronic track of the album and easily the most pop orientated. Synth based and led it has a mellow trance and some fun percussive edges that steal from cheesy 80’s pop. It’s catchy, fun and still manages to feel in keeping with the rest of the album. “Coming On Strong” is another riff heavy and catchy track that merges the synths from the previous track with the guitars from everything else. It’s no wonder this was a single – it deserves to be a massive hit and if you want to try Lisa out, this is the track you should start with.
“Out of Air” is a cute and whimsy track with a swing in its step that slowly winds itself up into something of a euphoric climax as more and more instruments add-on and although it doesn’t, it feels like the track speeds up as goes onwards. Miskovsky’s higher register works perfectly here to match the jangly guitar. The closing track “Little Islet Cape” is similar warm and celestial in places. There’s a lot of xylophone types in this album and hear you can hear it playing cheeky melodies under the strong guitars and vocals.
Frankly, Umea is amazing. This album reminds of the kind of album most female musicians write after having a child. It’s lighter and warmer but instead of a child, this is just about home. Joyous, catchy, fulfilling and equal parts beautiful and awesome – everyone should spend time in Umea.