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Singer Mali — Lodestone
(Bandcamp no#, 2023, CD / DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2023-09-20

Lodestone Cover art

Mali Sastri may use the name “Singer Mali” for her musical endeavors, but singing is only one facet of what she does. In addition to being a versatile and expressive vocalist, she is a fine piano player and a composer with a penchant for unpredictable melodies and incisive lyrics. Aside from these technical abilities, she also has a bountiful supply of what I sometimes refer to as “good taste,” meaning the aesthetic sense to put her skill to meaningful use that can touch listeners with the results of her craft — it’s about the choices made as opposed to the means to realize them. As with the band Jaggery, the music on Lodestone, her solo debut, is an imaginative blend of contemporary song and eclectic chamber music, here leaning even more towards the chamber side of the style. Her piano and voice are joined by drums and bass augmented by a string quartet on some tracks and a small orchestra on others. Guitars appear on only three of the eleven tracks. Some songs, like “Terror Targets,” feature the piano prominently, while others, like “My Nature,” focus more heavily on the strings, with piano barely noticeable. And while it’s certainly true that Mali’s voice, often elaborately arranged into multiple parts, is the central factor in the music, the string parts are superbly written, clearly the work of someone who knows what they’re doing — and that person is Mali herself. On the title track, she expands her palette even further, with a twelve-member ensemble featuring strings and woodwinds. The song has a melody that is so heart-wrenching it feels as if it’s always existed, and it’s a wonder that it’s only now been unearthed. The vocal parts on the song are stunning, with three separate sections, and when they are layered all together at the end, it’s pure bliss — sheer beauty presented with the originality to lift it above maudlin sentimentality. On “Play Pretend,” electronic processing is applied to the vocals, and at first I was put off by the distortion of something already so effective, but in the context of the album and the lyrics, it makes sense. (I had the same initial reaction to the vocal effects on Bent Knee’s Frosting. I’m still opposed to the overuse of Auto-Tune, but won’t arbitrarily limit the creativity of talented musicians.) Lodestone is a wholly satisfying album, and one of the highlights of the year.

Filed under: New releases, 2023 releases

Related artist(s): Singer Mali

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