During the chorus of ‘For Today’, the second track on With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, Jessica Lea Mayfield wearily dismisses a former lover – “I could care less about you,” she sings. It’s a curious phrase: hailing from Ohio, Mayfield favours the American construction, which seems entirely illogical. The phrase is supposed to convey utter indifference, but if she could care less about the subject, then surely she cares about them, even if only a little bit? The British version of the phrase, in which it’s clear the speaker couldn’t care less, has always made more sense to me. If all this seems like a bit of a pointless tangent, it’s actually by far the most interesting issue raised by With Blasphemy So Heartfelt. It is a dreary, dreary record.
Mayfield spends much of this debut album poring over the dying embers of a relationship. Dolorous lines litter the lyric sheet, but they’re expressed with neither wit nor poetry; Mayfield offers only boringly prosaic, woe-is-me sentiments. A (by no means exhaustive) list: “My life is falling apart”, “I can’t sleep knowing you want nothing to do with me”, “It’s lonely here without you”; “I can’t stand the thought of living without you / well, I would rather die”. Bloody hell.
All this would be much more tolerable if the music provided some light relief. The album’s produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, so you might expect some of that band’s knockabout energy to have seeped into the recording sessions. Sadly not. It’s a sonically murky album. Acoustic guitars are strummed, slowly; electric guitar lines occasionally snake in and out of earshot; tempos are uniformly plodding. There are occasional moments of prettiness – the ‘oah-woahs’ on opener ‘Kiss Me Again’, the tinkling xylophone on ‘For Today’, the eerie backing vocals on ‘I’m Not Lonely Anymore’. And, at only nineteen, Mayfield is an arresting vocalist: her Southern drawl most strongly evokes Cat Power, but there’s a dash of Hope Sandoval’s mistiness in there too. But, overall, this is a gruelling listen, even at its relatively brief length of thirty-seven minutes.
Break-up albums can be mighty things – for example, Court & Spark, Rumours, Let It Die – but in the wrong hands they can be navel-gazing, dull affairs. This is a prime example of the latter. It’s always dangerous to assume that a song provides a clue to its maker’s state of mind but if Mayfield really is as unhappy as With Blasphemy… suggests, she needs to cheer up soon. Not just for her own psychological well-being, but also for the sake of her music.
[Munich; March 2, 2009]
Tagged jessica lea mayfield