Yucatan Records is a charming independent label and artist management company with a meagre five artists to its name. Their biggest success story so far are Matthew and The Atlas, who they have developed into a touring act with very competitive draw over Europe. Subsequent expansion has seen the inclusion of avant-garde-istas Wovoka Gentle, Latin-inspired Blanco White and singer-songwriter George Cosby. However it is their latest project, Argentinian film-maker, producer and singer, Malena Zavala, that I will be focusing on for this review. Malena’s first single, ‘Should I Try’, a modern take on ’50s doo-wop, highlights the quality of her singing and her ability to synthesise the past without falling into the trap of being a nostalgia act.
The song is simple in construction – with one chord progression, the much-beloved “’50s cycle”, I – vi – IV – V, and it is repeated ad infinitum. Relative lack of compositional complexity should never be used as a stick to beat a composition with though – some of the best songs of all time are nothing more than three chord romps – it simply means that there is nothing to hide behind if the quality of the singing, lyricism and production is not up to scratch. Fortunately, Zavala shines in these key areas – her voice is pure and she has the sense to arrange sparsely, using intertwining pentatonic guitar melodies rather than crass barre chords to complement the simple vocal lines and harmonies. The buttery lower registers of her voice shine in the verse, while she transitions to a breathier delivery for the chorus – a nice touch which subverts the dynamics in the instrumentation (which follows the traditional “quiet verse, loud chorus” structure).
‘Should I Try’ is lyrically simple as well, full of vague, unspecific and borderline meaningless statements like “All I have to give is depending on if time will wait for me.” However it doesn’t seem to matter much – these work in conjunction with the nostalgic chord structure to give the track a somewhat timeless wistfulness. Thematically, ‘Should I Try’ seems to concern itself with self-doubt. Malena keeps it vague enough though that the song could easily be describing anyone’s insecurities – the strength of this approach is that it allows the listener to drape their own interpretation and meaning onto the song. The generic nature of the lyrics allow the vocal melodies to shine as well – the syllables seem to be carefully placed in the melody, such that one could listen to the song without really listening to the lyrics at all, just treating the voice as another instrument.
The one thing I have to take issue with, is that Yucatan advertise that Malena is influenced by Tame Impala. I really can’t seem to find that influence at all in this track – to me, it sounds like a female Mac Demarco decided to write some ’50s music, whereas Tame Impala is all psychedelic prog rock bombast. Beach House is a much fairer comparison, but perhaps Yucatan are merely hinting at what’s to come from Malena. Overall, ‘Should I Try’ is a great debut release – it’s not overly ambitious, but it’s very well executed and lets Malena’s voice and delicate production take centre stage, where they belong.
Malena Zavala will support Westerman on Friday 22nd September at St Pancras Old Chruch. Tickets are available here.