Lullaby and Good Night
Australia’s Lenka is a musical enigma. She spent the early part of her career fronting the ephemeral indie band, Decoder Ring, but she broke out in 2008 with her first solo effort and the movie soundtrack and television commercial hit, “The Show,” a song that is pop, pop, pop. The shiny sound suited her breathy, sweet voice, but she still possessed some underground cred as evidenced by the venues she played and the artists with whom she associated. On her second album, Two, her songs remained upbeat, infectious and catchy, as radio-friendly as anything else out there, though mainstream recognition eluded her. With her latest, Shadows, rather than deliver more of the same in hopes that the third time might be a charm, Lenka released an album of lullabies, but with less-than-charming results.
It’s important to know that Shadows was recorded while Lenka was pregnant with her first child, so understandably the songs were written with that on her mind. Opener “Nothing Here But Love” is a promise wrapped up in the sing-songiest of melodies. “Faster With You” is about being away from a loved one; if you imagine it’s about a significant other, then it feels schmaltzy, but if you picture her singing it to an infant, it’s now sincerely sentimental. By the third song, “Heart to the Party,” you start to lose hope that a single upbeat song exists on Shadows, and by the middle of the album you’re absolutely certain of it.
The problem with Shadows is that the melodies are so unforgivably tonal that they sink under their own weight. Ballads and lullabies require some modulation and variation to make up for the lack of dynamics. If “Find a Way to You” was sped up a hair with a bouncy drum beat, then it might have a future as a hit– but instead, it blends in anonymously with the other ten tracks. Having said this, Lenka’s delivery has never been more authentic and emotional. She loved her child before he was born, as evidenced by the use of his in utero heartbeat on “Two Heartbeats.” Listening to this album from start to finish is more effective than Lunesta (do not listen while operating heavy machinery), but mixed in with others on an iPod, they will shine more brightly.