Friday, July 24, 2015

Kicker | Zella Day

Zella Day is an enigmatic character. Through her scarce  interviews, we really haven't learned much about the American singer-songwriter; her two extended plays, 2012's Cynics vs Dreamers and last year's Zella Day, were both too brief to give us much insight, either. Through a few rudimentary Huffington Post and Vice articles out there, we do know that she prides herself on her upbringing in a minuscule dot on the map in Arizona, boasts a youth surrounded by live music in her parents' coffee house, and describes her music as "ethereal, desert, '70s, gypsy, [and] rock." Those pieces of information play crucial roles in the understanding of her own formal introduction, which comes in the form of Kicker, her debut full-length studio album.

The record uncovers a boho-chic indie-pop vocalist surrounded by pop-rock production that is flavored with strange twists of influences from Fleetwood Mac and - wait for it - Western movie scores. She wasn't lying about that ethereal-'70s-gypsy-desert-rock groove. It's a weird combination indeed, but hear me out: one listen to the album's most popular single proves that it works well. "Hypnotic" is a superb alt-pop track that flairs with spaghetti Western-esque post-choruses, and "Jerome" implements sultry, low guitar strums into a sweeping plea for "the only love I've ever known." These songs are not alone in being successful products from Day's cauldron of sounds, though. Her western tendencies take the undertones on "High," a gleaming track that is equal parts indie-pop and indie-rock and has its production amped up to the maximum volume level. The most obvious nod to the wild, wild West, though, comes in the form of "The Outlaw Josey Wales," a hazy companion to the film of the same name. 

Oftentimes, Day's sound is in a category of its own. Listeners' comparisons to her nearest contemporaries are substantial only when applied to tracks like "Mustang Kids" or "Ace of Hearts." "Kids" is the record's strongest nod to the synthpop category that Day is too often pushed into; immersive synths and beats blare underneath the duet of Day and Baby E, making for a pleasant interruption of the album-wide pop-rock vibe. While "Ace of Hearts" is a charged power ballad that highlights Day's voice to the best of its ability, the stripped "Jameson" tones her down to an intimate, acoustic hum that allows her voice to take center stage; the ambiance and raw vocals of the song make it a perfect contender for a peaceful indie record store playlist.

As the smoke screen around her settles, Zella Day emerges as a talented girl with a likable sound. Nods towards Clint Eastwood movies place a distinctive throwback spin on her summery indie pop-rock. Her extended plays toyed with this sound - a sound that presumably resulted from her life in the secluded Arizona town of Pinetop - but this full-length record confirms her dedication to it. Lyrically, this record is drenched with love, longing, and mischief, but of course, she manages to connect certain aspects back to home sweet home. (Take "Jerome," for example, which she says is related to the town of Jerome, AZ, not a person. Surprise.) She's a Pinetop girl on the inside and an unstoppable songstress on the outside, but the second element is dependent on the first; her time in the town honed a sound and an attitude that puts the 'kick' in Kicker.

Kicker is out now under Pinetop Records and Hollywood Records.

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