Album Review: Madeleine Mayi – 2/14

[Self-released; 2021]

Releasing an album on Valentine’s Day will always be a little cheesy and kitschy – especially when it falls on a day that new albums don’t traditionally drop. For Madeleine Mayi though, who released her first full-length 2/14 on February 14, it’s important to highlight the emotional foundation of the album’s inspiration. In 2018 and 2019, Mayi lost two loved ones during the week of Valentine’s Day, so the occasion – which usually crams all things heart-shaped down our throats via whatever channel it can – is marred by grief for the songwriter.

2/14 is Mayi working through that grief, and it’s there to see even in a cursory play through of the album. The muted grey and blue tones of the music paint a canvas in melancholic colours, but unfortunately the detail Mayi captures of actual personal grief is generic and mostly lacking; the tracks seem more suited for listeners to project their own woes and worries onto. There are simple sentiments offered throughout, like “I’ll always be here for you,” or “You never love me,” and Mayi’s tempered delivery seems content on rustling up a gentle storm, but never dares to name names. Tracks like the opening “smoke” and the closing “here” might sound pointed, but the lack of specific detail leaves such a shallow cut that a plaster (band aid for you Americans) wouldn’t even be necessary.

This insubstantiality carries forward into the music too. The aforementioned “smoke” tries to announce itself as a rocking stomper, but the texture of the electric guitars is so dulled it sounds like it was recorded so as not to bring a noise complaint from the neighbours. When the guitar solo kicks in towards the end it does help find some of the energy the song sought to capture from the start, but even at its most snarling it still feels muted.

2/14 is at its best on “ITRL” (also known as “In The Right Light”), where the pace is relaxed and considered; you can easily melt into the mood and Mayi’s words as a soft blues influence runs through the song’s undercurrent. It also does a fine job of capturing the feeling of limbo Mayi describes in the lyrics: “My feet are dragging behind me / Still see you in the right light,” she offers coolly. 

Elsewhere, she teeters on something anthemic: “for anything” tries for a rousing chorus but never quite manages. “love me”, on the other hand, has Mayi’s Phoebe Bridgers influence on full show, swirling together multiple voices for a despondent chorus of “I want you to love me / You never love me.” When the drums kick in, the snare almost hits like a chain snapping back, preventing the song from soaring.

Mayi’s first full length isn’t an unenjoyable listen though. It sweeps by with ease and mostly without fuss – helped along by its easily digestible 22 minute run time (which, funnily enough, is shorter than her 2017 EP, Just the Six of Us). Some tracks seep into one another and lose their impact, and the inclusion of two minute-long instrumentals seems dubious, as if they are there just to pad the tracklist. These tracks though  – “…” and “</3” – are perfectly nice, and they capture the feel and tone of the album quite perfectly: all airy, reverberating keys and misty atmospheres. Stretching them out from miniatures into larger landscapes would have been a welcome move, at the very least to help create some more breathing space between tracks and not let them coalesce. 

Coming back to Phoebe Bridgers though, Mayi will find plenty of comparisons to her with 2/14. To her credit, Mayi isn’t just riding the post-Punisher popularity trend, as she has always evoked Bridgers on her previous releases, be it in the aching vocals of “Santa Barbara” or the soft electric guitar chords and yearning of “towards you”. Mayi even said in an interview that Bridgers’ debut is probably her most listened to album.

On her previous EPs, Mayi might have been trying out a few more outfits to find a groove and a style that fit comfortably, but here on 2/14 she sticks to a single space and mood to build from. It just so happens that the Bridgers similarity comes to a sort of head at the same time; the chilly indie glow and smooth, earthy vocals on 2/14 will likely bring comparisons first and foremost, especially since it’s an easy reference point. But until Mayi can conjure and capture detail that feels inherently personal to her, then she’s likely going to keep living in the shadow of her much-adored peer.