Not many pop singers can actually make good music -- Imogen Heap, Regina Spektor to name a few. But Sierra Swan joins that very small ranking with her debut, "Ladyland," which mixes robust pop melodies with a world-weary, strong-minded attitude. No wilting violets here!
"Sitting on this broken glass/that I threw myself/tangled insecurities/where I like to dwell/dwelling my impurities/with one more glass of wine," goes the opener, "Copper Red." It's a swoony pop song that rapidly gains strength -- after the first minute, it's a complex, earthy song, with Swan announcing that "I'm in no hurry/to receive your adulation!"
The album takes a darker turn with "Don't Say," an ominous ballad that deals with an abusive relationship, with Swan finding the will to overcome the guy who "got me drunk/and laid me down." But don't expect the soul-searching to end there, because then it's a roller coaster of kiss-offs to ex-lovers, being a woman, and the regrets of a colourful life.
And this album doesn't commit to just one musical style. Though the album starts off as hearty pop, Swan also tries out bittersweet ballads, piano pop, rollicking synth-edged stuff, and swirling pop songs full of energetic violin melodies. It finishes off with an exquisite ode to a departed mother, laced with religious references and a hint of tears.
It's too bad that there isn't more pop like this -- no goopy sentimentality, no endless whining. There are lovers and love here, but Swan's songs don't give the impression of a lovestruck adolescent. Instead, she gives the feeling of a mature woman, who isn't going to sob and beg for a guy who isn't good enough, but can love someone who is.
"Ladyland" starts off with a sort of alt-rock track with a bit of a twang, and musically these are middling. But after two or three songs she breaks loose with all sorts of different styles, blending pianos, strings, bells, and maybe a few more elements. The melodies grow more sensual and multilayered, until it feels like you're being swamped in embroidered silk.
Swan's voice is probably the best aspect of the album. She has a very strong, flexible voice that sounds a bit like Imogen Heap's, and she knows how to use it. Growls, purrs, sneers, and straightforward singing all get used. Her songs have the mild clumsiness that a new writer has ("Now I'm scared straight/can I procreate?"), but there is considerable talent in other spots.
"Ladyland" has some awkward bits, but the spirited songs and solid melodies make it a good listen nevertheless. Definitely worth checking out.