[8 September 2010]
Leah Hayes’ anti-folk roots are showingon Scary Mansion’s eight-song—nine if you count its hidden track—album, Make Me Cry. Singing with a breathy bleat that emotes and quavers like a much more subdued Sinead O’Connor, Hayes’ voice imparts emotion and meaning where her lyrics sorely lack. Scary Mansion’s obtuse, repetitive lyrics don’t really say much of anything, coming off as a pretentious depress-o-fest that Sylvia Plath might have had cranking in the background before she stuck her head in the oven. Sure, there are a few lyrical gems scattered throughout the album. The introspective “On My Mind” fleshes out complete thoughts, spouting wishes for the world born of a sincere sense of empathy. On “Yer Grief” Hayes sings that it “is no joke”, and states “Your family tree / Will eventually fall and hit the ground” on “1%”. However pithy those one-liners may be, on the whole, Scary Mansion falls prey to a sloppy lyricism that ascribes to the school of “If I repeat this enough, it will sound deep.”
Conversely, the musicianship on Make Me Cry is impressive. Scary Mansion’s enchanting musicality is precisely the sort of thing needed to elevate it from its lyrical doldrums. It’s simple yet complex and richly-layered at the same time. Hayes’ accompaniment on a strange, three-stringed Native American instrument known only as the “thunderstick” weaves between banjo-like ramblings and Weezer-esque whirrings when plugged in. Bassist Bradley Banks and drummer Ben Shapiro round out the trio to create compact, amplified emo-folk with surprisingly lush instrumentation.