Singer-songwriter-guitarist Mary Kate O'Neil finds a middle
ground in smooth pop between the shallow layers of folk artist Hem
and the blazing orchestral flourishes of Joanna Newsom. Her
latest release Underground paves its own path through pop music's
forest, taking orchestral elements and coating them in shades of country,
folk and soft rock. Some tracks have a touch of '70s easy listening
pop, and other have a modern pop tint relatable to Nicole Atkins.
The songs are sparsely embellished and reflective in nature while
hopeful in tone.
The soft orchestral pop trimmings of "Green Street" are
made of glossy strings that swoop in and out of the melody and have
an upbeat feel circled in jangly percussive beats and brightly hued
guitar vibrations, which make for an easy listening experience. The
sunny sprigs of psychedelic-toned synths in "Easy To Believe
At First" have subtle elevations, and the glistening piano keys
strung along "Mr. Freidman" enhance the reflective mood
of the verses as O'Neil questions, "Where have you gone Mr. Freidman
/ I've heard you've lost your mind / Even more than when I knew you
/ When I saw they've closed your place / One thing I know is this
town won't be the same." The lyrics have a bluesy edge to them
as the music slants to a pop regiment.
The folksy guitar licks of "Saved," "Me, The Bee &
The Miner" and the title track have emotive ups and downs while
laminated in crystal-studded beats. The modern country-pop rhythms
of "Nashville" and "Attention" are bound by breezy
guitar riffs which move with a gentle feathering. The knee slaps of
Jill Sobule and Ken Maiuri in "Attention"
are subtle while shrouded in tenderly rippled strings and softly brushed
drum strokes. These tracks have a meditative ambience that changes
its coloring in "One Thousand Times A Day" with a chain
of puffing horns linked to brightly tinted guitar vibrations and sunny-pop
beats. The tracks have a Beach Boys shimmer and an upbeat tempo
that moves right into "So Long" with cruising guitar licks
and country-pop rhythms that have an uplifting pull.
The tracks have a tendency to want to pick oneself off of the floor
after being knocked down, and show persistency about being optimistic
and moving forward. The album is single-minded about being hopeful
and moving past the bad hand of cards that life dealt out. O'Neil
delves into modern pop with a set of eyes that sees nothing wrong
with blurring the lines between country, folk, orchestral-pop, and
soft rock. It's a vision that sees no division when putting different
elements together when writing songs.
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