If the opening to Lady Lazarus’s album, Mantic, sounds familiar, it might be because the piano is very close to the riff played in Perfume Genius’s “You Won’t Be Here.” In fact, I know very little about piano riffs, but I bet we could find a number of other songs that borrow the same chord changes or rhythm. But if looking at Mantic for instrumentation innovations is really the angle you want to approach it from, have fun being disappointed. The album is spare, haunting, and quite beautiful, and looking for connection, rather than innovation, is a more realistic lens and, ultimately, a quite rewarding one.
Like listening to the upcoming James Blake record, Mantic shows the magic that space can create. And Lady Lazarus, whose name likely comes from a Sylvia Plath poem, knows how to use lack of sound to accentuate the actual sounds. “The Eye In The Eye Of The Storm,” one of the record’s clear highlights, speaks volumes about the record both in its title and content. Mantic can feel like the eye of a storm, both with the current landscape of the music world and the current state of the planet. But on this song, the listener should get lost in the quiet, in the moments that are left to reflect solely on the comforting piano notes and the isolating lyrics that borderline on existential. Yeah, “who is going to sing it but me?”
Mantic passes by in an almost trance-like state, so it becomes difficult to point out particularly affecting moments or songs. It is the kind of record that sounds best as a whole, which, unfortunately, will turn off some listeners, as this characteristic has also done for like-minded artists, such as the aforementioned Perfume Genius and Joanna Newsom. But there are moments that do stand on their own. “What It’s Like” overflows with both a rawness (something that is present on every track, really) and distinct professionalism. No, not in the playing but in the emotional control. Sadness, nostalgia and ultimately redemption all can be felt simultaneously within the track, which seems carefully orchestrated like a master puppeteer commanding his marionettes. And still the song seems so precise in its plodding. “What It’s Like” also comes across like the first song Melissa Ann Sweat has ever sung or written. Almost like her piano notes are accompanied with the thought of “what comes next?”
This kind of sensation is impossible to fake or create, and so Mantic bursts with both orchestrated moves and spontaneity. Yeah, I know that doesn’t make sense, and honestly, the rewards of Lady Lazarus’ first album are still being revealed to me, weeks after first listening. To call it a “grower” would be selling it short. It is an expander, filling the space that it creates with the craving for return after return. Ask me what I think about it in a month and it may be one of my favorite albums of the year. For now, it is a strong debut that can prove difficult at times, but puts the singer on the map of future artists to watch.