Leeni Ramadan is an artistic tour de force. Although she has focused her efforts around her musical project Prom Queen, her talents extend well beyond writing compositions and lyrics. Her sophomore “record”, Midnight Veil, was a video-based album where the music revolved around the film (see it here). She’s a videographer, and she’s likely a designer given the elaborate costumes and outfits she has worn over the years. There are not enough adjectives to describe the Seattle-based artist’s talents, although one term that does not apply is one-dimensional. Her latest album, Doom-Wop, is most definitely not a one-trick pony. Instead, it is one of the most delightful and amusing LPs of the year – the rare vinyl that could be played for all ages and all occasions.
Doom-Wop is, in a sense, a throwback record, as Ramadan has re-imagined ’50s and ’60s bubblegum pop and doo-wop. But unlike those eras, Ramadan isn’t here to make our hearts swoon and have us think about endless love. On the contrary, she applies her cinematic talents to write stories that contrast with the engaging sounds of each song.
Album opener “End of the World” reveals the foreboding nature of her words against the lush, dreamy tones of her bandmates’ classic orchestration. This is how the apocalypse sounds in Ramadan’s world, where despite the devastation around her there is still beauty to be found. The upbeat “Manic Panic” is another wonderful display of contrast. The arrangements are worthy of several shoulder shimmies and a few shakes on the dance floor; however, it describes a person’s struggles with anxiety and despair:
“What is this feeling?
Am I happy or just manic?
Am I dying or just panicked?”
On “Vengeance (Will Be Mine)”, Prom Queen break out the slow dance and deliver a gorgeous ballad. A dark, spaghetti Western vibe flows throughout the song and perfectly complements Ramadan’s story of a woman seeking revenge. She is not the outlaw but the vigilante looking to even the score. Revenge has never sounded so engrossing. Continuing with the Tarantino-like theatrics is “The Lover is Always Alone”, another dark Americana-infused ballad that follows a heartbroken woman’s path to her end. The dissonant guitar and Ramadan’s emotionless vocals accentuate the song’s drama. Her lyrics, too, belong in books, or, at the very least, a screenplay.
“Loveless the lover weeps for another
The one who has left her alone
See the lover walking by
Raging river in her eyes
When the levee breaks
The river takes her away.”
“Blonde” is a lovely number that possesses the bubbly infectiousness of The Shirelles. But as we are quickly learning, Ramadan’s story is not one of bliss and happiness. Instead, it is the story of a woman who is unhappy with herself and wishes to be someone else. On the delicate and swaying “Pianos and Bricks”, however, Ramadan offers something a bit different. She takes on the role of an obsessive woman and describes her various tactics to entrap her “lover”. But nonchalantly, she rationalizes that this is just romance. It’s the most amusing song on the album.
There are two relatively straightforward love songs, although “straightforward” is used quite loosely. Joined by singer-songwriter Same Animal, “I Need You” is a gritty yet smooth track that echoes Alex Cameron in its approach and delivery. The two reveal their affection for one another with over-the-top phrases and in voices that are overly lustful. Consequently, is the song about love or obsession?
The album ends with a cover of the Guns N’ Roses classic, “November Rain”. This rendition is remarkable and arguably one of the best covers ever done. Its low-key doo-wop approach takes the song to more intimate heights. Prom Queen have done something even better than original. In the original, the bridge is overly dramatic and over-produced, but the band smooths this out with a sultry saxophone solo. This version is awesome because it reveals another way Ramadan is re-imagining the familiar. It also demonstrates unpredictability and how she is able to turn contrasting elements into something wonderfully imaginative.
Doom-Wop is out now at Bandcamp and iTunes and streaming on Spotify.
Ramadan is joined by Ben Von Wildenhaus, Tom Meyers, Jason Goessl, Jon Sampson, Birch Pereira, and a duo of drag queen backup singers (Mal De Fleur and Jimmie Herrod on the recording while Joelle and Evonne handle live duties).
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