With a defying voice and an innovative dream-folk-pop sound, Malena Zavala is making a lot of noise with her first album, Aliso. The record is a collection of sounds and influences that range from ambient layers of synthesizers to clean and crunchy guitars. Malena’s songwriting is very consistent and nuanced, and her melodies flow effortlessly over any kind of beat, making for very smooth transitions between songs.

“Intro Song” kicks off the album with some lo-fi noises and a simple guitar riff outlining the harmony. The song builds up adding layers of sound and rhythm before dropping completely, setting the mood for the pop-infused “If It Goes”, which has a very catchy chorus. Zavala explores the melodic possibilities of pop while remaining true to a conventional format. Her voice captivates in this first complete tune, levitating over the block of guitar lines.

“Moon Song” is the sound of the drums. As if under water, Zavala carefully places the beat in the background while eliminating most of the high-end spectrum of the drum machine. This move allows her to play with more dominant backing vocals and various synthesizers that fill the space the drums would **normally** occupy. (**There are no rules in music, that’s just the conventional setting**).

“Broken by Two” is a melancholic ballad on love and its hazards. Zavala sounds deeply emotional in this song, pouring her emotion into the microphone. The song gains momentum towards the end, when the drums join again for a brief section before dropping out and returning to the point of origin, Zavala’s voice and minimalistic chords.

The title song “Aliso” lures us into a dream state. The subtlety of Zavala’s vocals is only matched by the minimal and rich sounds around her. We can hear the influence of Brian Eno in this one.

“Should I Try” is a laid-back rockier tune with another very catchy chorus. Malena keeps delivering hook after hook effortlessly and with precision. The production (all done by her) handsomely shifts the spotlight from her vocals to the guitar and back to the vocal for the last chorus.

“Could You Stay” sounds like vintage pop played through modern instruments. We go deeper into Malena’s influences with new harmonic propositions that work very well over a busier beat. De-tuned guitars provide some interesting contrast in the song’s outro.

One of the album’s few ballads, “A Vision that’s Changed” rests exclusively on a strumming guitar and some touches of electronic production. The tune builds up from the guitar solo into a beautiful coda with multiple elements interacting at once.

“Send Out to the Water” sounds almost like a movie soundtrack. Its raw intensity and dark energy show a side of Zavala that we don’t find anywhere else on this record. The instrumentation remains the same, relying heavily on processed guitars and ambient vocals but the harmony is more adventurous.

The last song, “I Never Said It”, is an epic, seven-minute track that masterfully closes a very balanced album. Her triumph is to have morphed classic pop sensibility with a very modern production approach. The songs are full of memorable melodies and the harmonies are daring at times.

Aliso is out now via Yucatan Records

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