Albums, Music, The Revue — October 10, 2018 at 5:10 am

Molly Burch – ‘First Flower’ (album review)

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A year ago, Molly Burch released her captivating debut album, Please Be Mine, which showcased Burch’s smokey alto, her vast musical range, and storytelling talents. Twenty months later, the LA-born, Austin-based singer-songwriter returns with a sophomore effort that is equally enchanting, more engaging, and incredibly clever.

Whereas her first LP focused on love through nine different perspectives, First Flower dabbles in multiple themes, and it’s achieved with tremendous wit and charm. More striking, however, is how Burch uses contrast to put her message across, where the sweltering, summery mood does not always match her lyrics. The shoulder shimmering, country-pop opener, “Candy”, immediately reveals Burch’s deception. “What do I care what you think? You’re not my father”, she coolly states with intoxicating effect. She later shares how the anxiety in her head affects her:

“Why do I think on my feet?
It’s hard to stand now.
Don’t touch my hand now, don’t touch me!
Why do I make myself sick?
It’s outrageous.
I’m so contagious, don’t come near me.”

“Dangerous Place” titillates with the seductive charm of Laurel Canyon, yet Burch avoids the predictable storytline. She instead looks introspectively and seeks personal redemption. “I hope I learn from my mistakes. I hope I forgive myself one day”, she lushly expresses aloud to anyone who may be listening. Similarly on the Aldous Harding-esque ballad, “Good Behavior”, Burch eloquently wonders if she will “ever know good behavior”. She desires to be defined by it, yet she struggles to believe she can.

“I think I want to be better,
Better than you and all the rest.
I don’t think that’s quite possible;
Let’s all just try and be our best.”

Even on what seems to be a straightforward love song, doubt lingers in the air. On the tropical groove that is “Without You”, she asks, “You are my guiding light. How would I survive?” Then later, she admits this person is constantly “in my head”, as if s/he still controls her. Is this love, obsession, or the mind of a fractured soul?

Burch’s anxieties are further revealed on “Wild”. With its blend of wonderfully old-school, country-pop arrangement and modern-day cinematic flourishes, the song is an instant classic. Burch’s smokey vocals are playful while her lyrics are simultaneously introspective, observant, and witty. “It’s in my nature to be guarded. I wish I was a wilder soul”, she reveals. Then moments later, she turns on a dime and starts to describe the actions of a woman she admires. A woman she wishes to be.

“Watch her dance, make romance
There goes my baby, there she goes
She’s so wild.”

There are moments on First Flower where Burch does not stray too far from the well-worn path, where the mood and lyrics are perfect complements. With its gentle, breezy pop approach, the title track sees Burch opening up her heart and affirmatively proclaiming, “You are my man”. The languid “Nothing to Say” is quietly mournful, reflecting Burch’s story about being “left high and dry”. Meanwhile, Burch’s voice aches on the melancholic, country-folk number, “Every Little Thing”. As the acoustic guitar strums softly in the background and the tinges of a harp occasionally intervene, she reveals that “I’ve worn my body down. I’m done”.

Although these tracks are stunning, Burch is at her very best when she fools the listener. The deft touches of the electric guitar and the dreamy, country-pop melody of “To the Boys” create the feeling of a lazy day out on Barton Creek or having a siesta in order to get out of the midday’s heat. In the air, though, are the intoxicating tones of Burch’s breathy, smokey vocals. As gently delirious they are, her words demand the attention of all, as she takes on those who believe that a manly voice and decibel levels equate to authority. Burch disagrees, wistfully singing:

“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.”

As she proves on First Flower, one does not need to make a statement by being louder than the rest nor is ambition equivalent to boldness. Instead, with a sharp pen, a witty and dichotomous approach, and a voice to remember, one can still provoke, tease, and speak loudly. One can still deliver another modern-day classic gem, which Burch has done once again.

First Flower is out on Captured Tracks, and it’s available on Bandcamp. Burch is currently on tour, hitting cities across North America and Europe until December 7th. Dates and information are available here.

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