Lomelda wows on surprise album M for Empathy, out now on Double Double Whammy.
“A need to be / Over there / Four states a / step a / way,” Hannah Read sings on Lomelda‘s most recent release, M for Empathy. These opening lyrics encompass a lot of the album’s overarching themes: an oxymoronic need for both nearness and farness, a deep longing to be with someone who is very distant, and a sense that a big change has just happened or is about to happen. Written during breaks from tours with Snail Mail and Frankie Cosmos and recorded in Read‘s hometown of Silsbee, TX, Lomelda‘s surprise record for Double Double Whammy feels like the quiet that occurs during the freefall between jumping out of the plane and opening your parachute.
It could be said that Lomelda‘s affinity for sparseness is partially to thank for the project’s success. Read‘s first release under the Lomelda moniker was with 2015 debut album Forever, a textbook example of a carefully produced, full-band sound complete with racing drumlines and bold guitar riffs. Feeling that the finished product wasn’t quite right, Lomelda re-released Forever under the title 4E six months later. A live recording of Forever recorded at Meads Recital Hall in Waco, TX, 4E is a completely different (and arguably better) beast—mainly because it places Read‘s transcendent vocals at the forefront of the record. No longer inundated with roaring guitars and thudding beats, 4E cemented Lomelda as the queen of all quiet and captivating. Follow-up Thx found a happy medium between Forever and 4E, demonstrating Lomelda‘s strengths as a band without ever taking away from Read‘s lyrics. Songs like “Interstate Vision” and “Bam Sha Klam” revealed a propensity for churning out incredibly intricate instrumentals to buttress Read‘s vocals, while classically acoustic tracks like “Nervous Driver” and title-track “Thx” relied on the relationship between Read and her acoustic guitar.
Thus far, Lomelda‘s discographic trajectory has taken an upwards, linear movement. Each release has consistently been better, stronger, and more sure than the last. However, M for Empathy doesn’t necessarily feel like the logical next sonic step. In fact, it’s difficult to describe the record at all. It’s not exactly a tour album, though the record does contain Lomelda‘s signature interest in movement. Though it contains elements of raw, absentminded bedroom pop, its studied perfect imperfection reveals it to be the studio album it is. M for Empathy is also incredibly short; all eleven songs clock in at less than eighteen minutes. Thematically, it touches on ideas that Lomelda has explored before: distance, love, wanting something you cannot have. Still, the energy is definitively different. While the record certainly contains heartbreakingly specific lyricism and a bouquet of different sounds, M for Empathy is an undeniable shift for Lomelda.
Despite its truncated run-time, this record contains multitudes. More specifically, it seems to have three distinctive styles. First, there is the classic Lomelda album. “I thought of many things to say to you,” Read sings on “Bust.” “But what were they what were they what were they…” The song erupts in a cacophony of twinkly, raindrop piano notes as Read continues to question, “What were they?” The next song, “Bunk,” is a love story that lasts a minute and some change. “So Bad 1, Girl” and “So Bad 2, Care” harken back most obviously to the head-nodding folk songs that encapsulate Lomelda‘s earlier works. All these tracks contain a through-thread of need—needing to talk to someone, needing to be near someone, needing to share—and a resistance to the thought of getting what one wants.
Next, there’s an experimental spontaneity to M for Empathy that’s sprinkled in here and there. Track “Tell” is reminiscent of American Pleasure Club (formerly known as Teen Suicide) with a gravelly guitar and a chorus of soft voices urging, “Tell me what you’ve been through.” The song is fun and scrappy, seemingly separate from the heaviness and sadness that represent so much of the rest of the album. “M for Magic,” is a reprieve that includes a guitar and piano solo, tips a hat to the ambient music that Lomelda has been releasing on SoundCloud throughout extensive touring.
Finally, there’s the section of this record that’s just truly depressing. In “Slide,” Lomelda sings, “Almost drove to Chicago / To see her from the crowd… Can’t kill myself / Can’t help / It now / It’s how / I felt.” She continues, “My friend called me on my cellphone / Normally I would ignore it / Something / Let me slide / And saved my life.” This small capsule of a narrative is a snapshot of a deeply lonely night, one that ends in unlikely salvation in the form of an unwanted call from a friend. “M for Me” almost reads like poetry, as Read sings, “What if I die before / I ever get to know you more / When I sleep am I still me to you / When you sleep you are still you to me.” These sad and spectacular tracks are easily the strongest on the record because, like the title encourages, they force the listener to practice empathy. One can’t listen without feeling, and in feeling these things together perhaps we are no longer alone.
It might seem like these three seemingly disparate parts could never contribute to a complete, whole album. Herein lies Read‘s greatest strength as a musician: She’s trustworthy. No matter how many funky rhythms, strange lyrics, and unpredictable tangents the album contains, the listener is always in good hands. The cost of this trust is that the piece (like many of Lomelda‘s releases) requires a bit of patience on the listener’s end, but it’s worth the attention. The album is perfect company for a sleepless night. While clearly each song remains deeply personal to Read, the sentiments sung are universally and devastatingly relatable.
Like most pieces of great art, M for Empathy raises far questions than it answers. Most pressing: What’s going to come next from Lomelda? In closing track “Watering,” Read sings, “I hope you’re ok / Swoonin’ in sun / Salty for her tongue / Salty for her tongue.” There it is again—this need, paired with this demand for detachment. Perhaps this is how listeners will feel after listening to this incredible album— a need for more, but an understanding that whatever’s coming next from Read is definitely worth waiting for. So, we wait.