Ada Lea’s music is like textures on a quilt, with different fabrics all meshing into one. On her debut indie rock album, “what we say in private,” released on Saddle Creek, Ada Lea is musician-come-property-developer treating each song like a house bought on the cheap, stripping it out entirely and rebuilding it from the ground up. That confidence to mutate songs entirely often comes later in a musicians career, but with ‘What We Say In Private’ Ada Lea reveals herself to be fully formed, despite only recently emerging from the blocks.
“mercury” is a rollercoaster, with guitar and an intense bass line matched with Lea’s vocals, which range from resembling label-mate Adrianne Lenker, to straight up radio pop. “wild heart,” begins with a soft and gentle melodic guitar tune, until Lea chimes in with “I know I said that it doesn’t matter anymore, and I can’t take that back.” And then she begins to experiment with tempo changes, layering light guitar harmonies over one another in a confusing ballad for what will ultimately become her singular and charming voice. The song morphs again into a recognizable tune, reminiscent of Suzanne Vega’s vocal quality, before collapsing into disarray for a moment and then returning triumphantly to a short, but anthemic chorus. Within the span of a single song, she extrapolates on the circular nature of music by taking the intensity to an experimental peak then returning to the original gentle melody.
Alexandra Levy (also known as Ada Lea) is a painter as well as a singer, with much experience in the arts, and it’s palpable. Her music is fervent and gorgeous as striking as a large canvas painting. She swiftly creates melodies, then just as effortlessly picks them apart, laying them down like stripes of paint. The album was originally going to be a concept record with one side resembling the sun, the other the moon. The conceptualization isn’t as clear cut, but each song seems to have a foot in both doors, leading the listener by the hand in and out of different emotions, light and dark.
“for real now (not pretend)” begins with another recognizably indie rock melody. But with Levy’s strong ability to deconstruct a song it becomes something far more interesting, collapsing in on itself. “Do you want to dance?/With me just one last chance?” she asks, twice before she begins speak singing and her instruments swirl and layer into chaos.
“what makes me sad” is a slacker rock anthem, where Levy replaces her pop-esque vocals by almost slurring her voice before she trips right into speak sing. “Wring it out until it’s gone,” she commands, “What makes me sad is I can’t, what makes you sad I don’t know.”
Hesitation is a central theme on “yanking the pearls off around my neck.” And Levy is full of reflection and misremberances. “And it is true that sunsets and storm get all the attention,” she muses, as her voice takes on a quality not unlike that of Meg Duffy of Hand Habits. It explores the conflict of how to view the mundane whilst you’re falling in love.
Much like in life, there is no calm or peaceful ending. “On again off again, because it’s not easy. It’s not easy,” she repeats into a heavy electric guitar oblivion on “easy,” until the album is over. “what we say in private” is beautiful, painful and thorough, like a diary entry of different times.