Saint Low’s self-titled debut album opens with the voice of a woman quietly singing to herself. Though the rest of the album includes textured musical accompaniment, these opening seconds sort of sum up what the album is about: a woman revealing her personal thoughts in song. The woman in question is Mary Lorson of Madder Rose, one of the more underrated groups in “alternative rock.” While Madder Rose often rocks, you should understand that this Saint Low album does not rock. Saint Low is not a rock band, but a showcase for Lorson to sing gentle, soulful pop songs.
While Lorson does very little of the songwriting for Madder Rose, here she does it all; despite the band name, this album belongs to her. Each song shows off her gorgeous voice and her songwriting talent. Where in Madder Rose her vocals often combine with the band’s rock sound to create a mood of dreaminess, here her voice is right in the center. The songs are also more bare and out in front. Though she is joined by a bassist, a drummer, a violinist and a pianist, the music is formed around her songs. The mellow, sometimes jazzy music supports Lorson singing her songs.
In many ways, this album is what “soft rock” or “light rock” should mean. Saint Low’s music is subtle, understated and mellow, yet there’s nothing vacuous or insulting about it. Mary Lorson’s songs are intelligent and pointed, yet still “soft” as far as the musical style goes. The songs also delve into much darker territory than most pop music. The songs all deal with relationships, yet not in a sunny, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan sort of way. These songs are about the emotions everyone feels and experiences but isn’t supposed to talk about: jealousy, loneliness, betrayal, anger, fear.
One of the best songs on the album, “A Thing or Two,” describes a person’s encounter with her own “heart and soul” which leaves her running “from room to room, turning everything up loud.” The lyrics manage to convey the real, concrete experience of self-examination while remaining mysterious and oblique, like the sort of poetry you write for yourself: “When the hurricane said run, she said to take my time / But I’ve only got all the storms she forgot.” What makes this album so fulfilling is the complexity of its view and its style. While “A Thing or Two” takes a more mystical, literary approach to human feeling, the album also includes straightforward, heartwrenching depictions of human separation and alienation like “Walk on By,” which has wonderfully worded lyrics like “Where’s the missing piece / The one that makes you mean the things you say? / Cause when I say hello the yellow wind of you just keeps on going / Sucking all the air out of the world.”
With this album, Lorson not only shows that she can sing in many styles and write catchy melodies of own, she demonstrates the art of creating pop music that deals with serious subjects without sounding too serious. Saint Low probes the inner life of a human being without getting caught up in clichés or ego, all the while delivering charming, layered pop music.