Review// Malena Zavela stands alone on Aliso

Latin rhythms meet psychedelia on Malena’s debut album.

Aliso is the debut album by the Argentine born and London raised Malena Zavala. Drawing inspiration from her hometown in Argentina as well as the creativity within her own family, Malena’s music is full of diversity, combining Latin rhythms with psychedelic rock and blissful vocals. Drawing on musical influences such as Tame Impala and Beach House, Malena uses dream pop as a means of exploring issues close to her heart: from the likes of artistic freedom and cultural miscommunication, this LP is vast not only in its musical coverage, but also its thematic expanse.

The opening track of the record, the aptly titled Intro Song, acts as a perfect introduction into the world of Malena. Its dream-like quality lacks a discernible musical core and is a mix of everything: its wistful nature places her free floating and free-thinking abilities and the forefront of the track, whilst ensuring that the listener is clear that she is more than a nostalgia act. Spanning less than two minutes long in length, the track is a quick whistle-stop tour of what we can expect from the LP, tuning us into the mastery behind her delicate talent, intriguing us all the more.

If It Goes opens with a slower harmonium-esque quality although this is gradually replaced by her soothing vocals which cut across the reed-like sounds in a way that is as soft as butter. By working alongside the melodic backdrop as opposed to against, the true quality is seen in her voice. Her talent is made bare, allowing no room for inadequacies, both vocally or lyrically.

Thankfully, however, Malena lives up to her vocal spotlighting and doesn’t trip up – although her lyrics are a little ambiguous, the tone of such is a perfect accompaniment for her whimsical voice. In a true unparalleled way, Malena’s voice is able to transgress the boundaries of genre and tone, think of the purity and innocence of Gabrielle Aplin combined with the edginess of a vocalist along the lines of Taylor Momsen. The tranquillity inherent to Malena’s voice is captivating, a quality that makes it impossible not to feel a connection to the music. Combined with the whimsical symphony of psychedelic rock, the track carries you away in a haze of hallucinogenic blues.

Other stand-alone moments from the LP include the first single from the album, Should I Try and the almost tropical Could You Stay. Whereas the latter is an emblem of the fusion of the South American carnival vibe and liquid psychedelic rock that is talked about, Should I Try is stripped down to the basics, almost resembling some sort of doo-wop with its reliance on little instrumental structure.

By sticking to a pentatonic melody, the guitar gives the track an almost blues feel as the deep slow vocals of the verse contrast with the higher raspier tones of the chorus to create a sound that you can’t help but sway to. Again, Malena’s vocal shine through on this track, juxtaposing the self-assurance of her vocal ability against the lyrical fear of the future to demonstrate her eventual path to acceptance.

The seven-minute track I Never Said It acts as a finale to the record, epitomising the crux of Malena’s musical identity. As the opening breathy vocals make way for the simplicity of an acoustic guitar, before shifting yet again to occupy a more upbeat tempo, it is clear that Malena is not one to find a box and stay in it.

With no discernible musical core, there is not a moment on the record in which Malena Zavala sounds ‘run of the mill’ or anything close to ordinary. Aliso has a liminal musical position and is a breath of fresh air that will have you wanting to simultaneously relax, dance and, inevitability, tend to a nostalgic yearning.

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