It is hard to imagine that Omar Rodríguez-López, who is in the middle of a huge release-happy six month long project, could continue to produce original content. Based on his previous releases (Arañas en La Sombra, Corazones, Blind Worms, Pious Swine, Sworn Virgins), one would expect high-energy, frantic, overwhelming music from Umbrella Mistress, but we are instead treated to a sad, moody, warm collection of songs that tap into a listener’s emotions. For the whole album to be relatively somber is a breath of fresh air from Rodríguez-López, who tends to favor the conceptual and noisy bits of musicianship. This album is also in English– a marked difference from the others in this flurry of releases.
The album begins with a sweet, warm and more upbeat track: “Saloenliaze.” The melody stays pretty consistent and for Rodríguez-López, the song is positively traditional. His vocals are calm and are backed with what sounds like either children’s voices or a young woman’s vocals. The intro of the song, however, is where Rodríguez-López is true to his weird, innovative self. It’s essentially an odd, warped version of the song to come. It eases the listener into an interesting, melodic and surprising album that is a journey to listen to. The title track (the second) has some funky accompaniment from electric keys, a steady, relatively heavy beat and the woman’s voice returns to punctuate the more fragile parts of the track. When we hit the chorus, the vocals take a reverb-y, echo-y turn, reminding us of our introduction to this album.
“Houses Full of Hurt” is darker than the previous two tracks. If one doesn’t pay close enough attention, it would be easy to miss the absolute heartbreak in this song, but that doesn’t diminish its impact. If anything, the calm beauty of the track veiling the, well, hurt – functions as a sort of mask, one that we as listeners get to pull back. “Houses Full of Hurt” is truly where the album begins to delve into deeper waters. “Eastern Promises,” the following piece, is full of soft vocals, chimes, strings and sadness. It is the masterpiece of the album – there is no question. When Rodríguez-López sings, “I have sold off all my hope,” we can hear it. In “Eastern Promises,” he sounds a bit jaded and broken. A little hopeful, maybe, but in a way that screams, “I know that it probably is futile, but I’m not giving up.”
“Blood Count” is another one of the ‘let’s pretend we’re fine’ sort of tracks. “Remember me, I’m the downer with the pistol in his jeans,” is not the first lyric of a particularly happy song. “What did you think would happen if you set my demons free,” sets the tone further, making sure we know that though there’s a dance-y beat and a bouncy melody, they’re “setting fire to this teenage dream of love.” The following song “Through Wires” brings it back a bit, but not nearly to an “Eastern Promises” level of desperation. It’s a more classically-inspired, lost-sounding song. It is a little amorphous and a lot beautiful.
“Pale Blue Queen” and “Tell Me What I Did Wrong” both have the same sort of surprising qualities. Though the latter sounds sadder melodically, they both have their moments. “Pale Blue Queen” is celebratory in the way one would remember something fondly while missing it dearly. The final track, “Diamond Teeth,” sounds like an apology. A scared one, one where forgiveness will be hard-won. The piano solo, the vocals (male and female), the tormented guitar, the militant beat, the lyricism – it is a truly complete song, just like “Eastern Promises” is. “Diamond Teeth” is a terribly beautiful and powerful ending to a marvelous album. Umbrella Mistress is quite honestly a must-listen. Rodríguez-López’s releases are only getting better.