Molly Burch croons about the male gaze in an album full of self-sure character accrued for her second album First Flower.
Coming only a year and a bit off the heels of her debut album, Please Be Mine
, First Flower
, the sophomore album from Molly Burch finds the artist focussing her gaze on the male gaze, her own insecurity, and expectations thrust upon female artists. It’s a considered album, and Burch sings with a purposeful, theatrical voice – one full of bass and depth, able to fly up the octaves or sit in a deeper zone with comfort. It’s a voice that makes complete sense, really, given her studies in jazz vocal performance at the University of North Carolina in Asheville.
The album immediately sets up the fact that we, as listeners, will be paying complete attention to Burch. With opener, “Candy,” Burch’s voice is thrust immediately at the listener. It’s a voice that will surprise those new to Burch’s work, a voice that doesn’t hold back or apologize for its inflections and bass. Even leaving aside the vocal power of the opening bars of the track, Burch takes control of the situation with her “why do I care what you think?” opening lyric. For someone who has described the album as being from someone who “[does] not have the answers by any means”
and has said “I wouldn’t want someone who listens to my music to think that I have it all figured out. I don’t” it’s a wonderfully assertive opening lyrically and vocally. Burch’s comments about the album, however, become clearer with the follow-up track, “Wild” where she admires her “baby,” and a line such as “there goes my baby/ there she goes” becomes imbued with the power of her voice. There’s a sense of awe and fascination, even from the up-close vantage that she has. The pre-chorus refrain of “she’s so wild” contrasts her own desires and self-image when she sings in the chorus “I wish I was a wilder soul.” Molly Burch discloses more of her worries on the next track, “Dangerous Place,” when she sings “it ain’t easy no more” and “I hope I learn from my mistakes.”
The strength and self-sure character from the opening line of the album come back throughout the album, particularly noticeably on the brilliant “To The Boys.” It comes across as a song from the stage to an audience of men leering up at her, waiting for her to entertain them, that has no interest in their expectations. “They tell me to be louder/ No, I won't even bother” she sings, her speaking voice being faulted by the audience. “I don't need to scream to get my point across/ I don't need to yell to know that I'm the boss/ That is my choice/ And this is my voice/ You can tell that to the boys,” Molly Burch is the one on stage, and she will do what she damn well pleases.
With the breezy electric guitar of “Candy” and the striding bass of “Wild,” it would be easy to make an upfront decision about the stylistic content of the album. However, to do so would be to miss the various genre and stylistic movements of the album. Over the course of First Flower
, Molly Burch moves between jazz, country, old school rock and roll, big band, and Americana. Songs are punctuated by jazz and rock influenced guitar lines that run their way from one section to another, but they never intrude or feel out of place, indeed sometimes they feel as if they’ve been given equal footing to vocals, but never distractingly so, only ever in an appropriate context and manner given the song styles.
While the album does deal with serious concerns that Burch has about women in music, and her own insecurities, not just as a woman in music but as a human being, there was still space for the ballads that she professes her love for: “Really any woman that is singing a ballad is my favourite thing.” The album winds up with the strongest track of the lot, “Every Little Thing,” a slow, moody closer that winds its way slowly to the finish line. One can imagine a room, dead-silent, drinks on tables and held unforgotten in hands, liquid spilling out of them, as all attention is completely concentrated on Molly Burch, onstage, smoke filling the air, the band receding into the distance as Burch’s voice soars above and beyond the realms of the song. Her voice and the instrumentation linger for a moment as the song finishes, the reverb stretching both out a whisper longer. It’s that moment of hesitation, of adoration from the audience, an understanding of having experienced something amazing, that whisper of space and silence before the audience leaps to their feet, dashing their drinks to the ground in the process.
Molly Burch plays Komedia in Brighton on December 2nd.