Zella Day
Kicker


3.5
great

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
June 3rd, 2015 | 81 replies


Release Date: 06/02/2015 | Tracklist

Review Summary: From your lips, it's the heaven that we're in.

Zella Day has an almost magnetic allure. Adorned in earth tone dresses and flowery headbands, she’s a stunningly gorgeous blast from the 1960s. Her dreamy, throwback vibe has been beaten to death by incessant Lana Del Rey comparisons, so I’ll spare you those remarks by mentioning Lana for both the first and last time right here. Besides, Zella has a style that is very much her own, with a sound that is influenced equally by the old American Midwest, Pacific beaches, and contemporary pop culture. Even though Zella grew up in the sparsely populated town of Pinetop, Arizona, she has a voice that was meant for the largest of stages. Her tone can change from a persuasive call-to-arms to a soothing, seductive chant within seconds; leaving listeners spellbound and longing for more. She can lay out a soul-bearing confession that leaves her practically breathless, then bring everything back into the light with a simple turn of phrase. Powerful yet limber, she has the ability to dominate an entire album with nothing but her voice. She did it on her eponymous Zella Day EP last year, and now she’s done it again on her full-length debut: the mysterious, alluring Kicker.

If you had the pleasure of hearing Zella Day, then you’ll already recognize this album’s primary cornerstones: ‘Hypnotic’, ‘Sweet Ophelia’, ‘Compass’, and ‘East of Eden.’ They’re back on Kicker in their original forms, spread out in such a way that the album never loses steam. ‘Hypnotic’ is obviously the best of the bunch, with an entrancing melody and Zella’s sultry vocals wrapping themselves around lines such as “You do it to me so well, hypnotic taking over me” and “Make me feel like someone else, you’ve got me talking in my sleep.” There’s an exotic element to it, and even if it’s cliché to coin ‘Hypnotic’ as being just that, it’s an apt description nonetheless. On an album lined with potential hits, ‘Hypnotic’ is still a standalone masterpiece, and it deserves your immediate attention regardless of what you think of the rest of her music. ‘Sweet Ophelia’ and ‘East of Eden’ are more straightforward pop tunes, rocking back and forth on top of swaying rhythms and letting Zella’s powerful delivery take care of the rest. With that said, there’s nothing typical about either song; Zella’s sheer vocal talent elevates everything to astronomic heights. That’s never more apparent than it is on the piano-laden, gorgeously threadbare ‘Compass’ – a track that puts her softer vocal skills to excellent use with brilliant lyrical passages like “Take me to the garden of your ecstasy, make myself a headband from your fallen leaves / woven in the fabric of your tapestry, cover me in honeysuckle memories.” From this point on, it’s obvious that Zella Day is more than just a beautiful girl with tremendous pipes: she’s also a very potent lyricist.

Back in October of 2014 when I reviewed Zella Day, I made the point that it’s rare for an artist to release a full length record that absorbs its preceding EP without suffering a fall out in quality. All too often, the EP reveals the strongest material upfront, and then the LP resultantly feels like a fluff piece. To many, this is a moot point – because obviously a good song on an EP is still a good song on an LP, but I feel that it’s important to show growth and to capitalize upon any momentum that was accumulated. While Kicker doesn’t exactly pass this test with flying colors, it doesn’t come anywhere close to qualifying as “fluff” either. Part of the problem is the track ordering – which is, once again, an irrelevant point to many – but it does this album almost no favors. The slightly repetitive ‘Jerome’ starts things off shakily where almost any choice off the EP (particularly ‘Hypnotic’) would have absolutely killed it. It commences with an intriguing and slightly middle-eastern guitar lick, but the chorus of “Jerome…Jerome…Jerome oh why do you treat me so cold” takes any initial interest that was garnered out behind the barn and shoots it in the head. She chooses to follow ‘Jerome’ up with the faux anthem ‘High’, a track that culminates in the borderline nonsensical plea “Don’t worry baby don’t you cry / As long as we keep getting high / Keep running like we’re never gonna die.” It just feels lazy, and between those two songs, Kicker will have even the most excited fan feeling like he or she’s just been had. They aren’t bad songs by any means, but when held to the standard set by Zella Day, those quick build-ups to overstated, elongated choruses simply won’t do. That’s part of the reason why both track listing and the EP/LP dynamic do matter, and on Kicker the execution of these seemingly minor details is a little messy.

Fortunately, listeners receive a very quick apology with a song that goes toe to toe with Zella Day’s best work to date. ‘Ace of Hearts’ will instantly calm the nerves of anyone who’s starting to lose their patience by reminding them of why they fell in love with Zella to begin with. Instead of bland song structures, we get a lush electronic beat. Zella Day’s vocals enter – silky smooth at first, then quivering. As the emotion becomes palpable, the percussion becomes more emphatic to match the intensity. Finally, it erupts into a dazzling two-part chorus – both equally as memorable – before gently falling back into another round of softly stated verses. It’s basically the perfect midtempo pop song for an artist like Zella, and it’s clearly the mark that she should have been aiming for all along. Almost as if she arrived at the exact same conclusion, ‘Ace of Hearts’ is followed up by the superb ‘1965’ – a track true to Ms. Day’s hippie persona. As she pleads, “Can we go back to the world we had" With a love so sweet it makes me sad…”, it feels like Zella bearing her soul to us. She sounds tired and forlorn – like a girl decades displaced from her destiny as she repeats “I don’t belong here.” Yet there’s this vivacity that underlies it all, as if she’s spellbound by the promise of tomorrow. That’s Zella Day: this idealistic mind who has been sobered by reality but refuses to give up hope.

Even though Kicker suffers through another dual misstep in the cowboy-themed ‘Mustang Kids’ and ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’, the rest of the album is very much smooth sailing. ‘Jameson’ is as stripped down as we’ve ever heard Zella Day, in what could only be described as a borderline folk ballad. Unlike the Midwestern ramblings of the aforementioned clunkers, this is the kind of versatility that proves Zella to be among the most talented pop artists that are currently on the rise. The acoustic guitars are crystal clear and pristine, lending the track a pastoral atmosphere. Her vocals shine through yet again, and the fact that you can actually hear her voice crack on occasion makes it by far the most endearing moment on the record. In a way it’s comparable to ‘Compass’, although I’d venture to say that the pure aura of the song makes it even better. ‘Shadow Preachers’ is another incredible display of Zella’s vocal and lyrical talents, painted on a minimal canvas of just pianos and a barely audible electronic backbeat. For the first time, it feels like she’s finally giving us an untainted view of why she always carries such sullen undertones; it’s an incredibly vivid breakup song, almost like Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Your Love Is Killing Me.’ It’s more softly stated, but the emotions behind it are the same:

You got those scissors from the drawer
You never dug so deep before
If I stop trying, we start dying
You’re cutting me out, baby who you fighting"

You make me wanna love, hate, cry, take very part of you
You make me wanna scream, burn, touch, learn every part of you

Anyone who thinks Zella Day is your typical, cookie-cutter pop artist – or that she’s riding on the coattails of another unnamed star (who was already referenced in this review) – think again. Zella Day is a multi-faceted artist who can, with very little warning, turn the tide from joyful and whimsical to dark and desolate. It’s the kind of stuff that only the very best artists have in them.

As Kicker wraps up with ‘Sweet Ophelia’ and ‘Compass’, it closes on a strong note. Dubbing the album a “mixed bag”, while true to an extent, feels a little too unforgiving. This record marks some tremendous accomplishments for Zella Day, and when she hits her stride she’s damn near unstoppable. It’s not as consistent as I would have liked, and the western-obsessed tracks are particularly mind-boggling (perhaps just some homegrown self-indulgence), but at the end of the day I don’t remember those moments. What I remember is the heights to which her voice soars on ‘East of Eden’…the way I feel like I’m daydreaming while listening to ‘Hypnotic’…the raw emotion of ‘Shadow Preachers’…and the immersive, unbelievably infectious ‘Ace of Hearts.’ Kicker’s strengths definitely outweigh its weaknesses, making it a great foundation for Zella Day to build her career on. If one thing is certain, it’s that the best is yet to come from this talented young songstress.




Recent reviews by this author
Vessel Queen of Golden DogsMolly Burch First Flower
Madeline Kenney Perfect ShapesAphex Twin Collapse
Frog Whatever We Probably Already Had ItWilliam Ryan Key Virtue
user ratings (74)
Chart.
3.3
great
related reviews

Zella Day
recommended by reviewer
Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence
Lorde Pure Heroine


Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
June 3rd 2015


28715 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I want so badly to give this a 4 but there's just too much filler. The best songs on here are unbelievable though:



Must-Hear Tracks:

Hypnotic

Ace of Hearts



Recommended Tracks:

East of Eden

1965

Compass

Shadow Preachers

Sweet Ophelia

Jameson



Can Be Skipped:

High

Jerome

Mustang Kids

The Outlaw Josey Wales



Digging: Exit North - Book of Romance and Dust

Pangea
June 3rd 2015


2720 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I should check this

Feather
June 3rd 2015


4977 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

tl;dr

Cygnatti
June 3rd 2015


32650 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

hypnotic is pretty darn good but def not video games or west coast level imo

Digging: Svitlana Nianio - Kytytsi

Feather
June 3rd 2015


4977 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Just kidding, great review as always. Excited to hear this. Kind of disappointing though that only 3 of the 8 tracks that you said are must-hear/recommended are actually new. The ep was amazing.

joitp
June 3rd 2015


10 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I gave it a 4, maybe cause I never skip "Jerome" ... but I second you on almost every point. Great review of a very good album

PappyMason
June 3rd 2015


5702 Comments


Great review.

Yeah, I need to check this one.

Shiranui
June 3rd 2015


550 Comments


I saw this rating coming after i heard several previews of her songs, but damn Sowing you broke my heart.

tempest--
June 3rd 2015


20626 Comments


OOH BABY

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 3rd 2015


28715 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

@Shiranui: A 3.5 lands it in my top 10 for the year so far, so i wouldn't consider it a heartbreaking rating! A 3.5 is supposed to be a "great" album.

Cygnatti
June 3rd 2015


32650 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

agreed

but then you should listen to more albums too :]

JohnnyOnTheSpot
Staff Reviewer
June 3rd 2015


6676 Comments


top 10 out of 12 ain't too shabby agreed

Cygnatti
June 3rd 2015


32650 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

lol nice

TheSpirit
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2015


24487 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Surprised you think Jerome is skippable, that was actually one of my favorite tracks.

Digging: Cradle of Filth - Midian

TheSpirit
Contributing Reviewer
June 3rd 2015


24487 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Also, High...

mvdu
June 4th 2015


762 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

It"s a very promising album - rather than consistently problems, I feel on future albums she could get out of her mid tempo groove a bit more. It's often fine due to eclectic flourishes like on "Hypnotic," but holds the album back a bit. BTW she is very cute.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 4th 2015


28715 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

High is the better of those two IMO Spirit, but overall they just seem pretty bland to me. They both have kind of elongated, overstated choruses with lyrics that don't grab my interest. I'm glad you liked them though, it's entirely possible that my expectations were just too high for this.

Cygnatti
June 4th 2015


32650 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

did potsy get banned again? rip in peace



also this is really not his thing, but who knows

Shiranui
June 4th 2015


550 Comments


It's just the quality of her ep and the praise you've been giving it. Expected nothing but the good stuff, though.

SowingSeason
Moderator
June 4th 2015


28715 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Well yeah, that was the EP. I feel the quality of the new material added is really good, but inconsistent.



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2017 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy