Welcome to Boss Ladies, the review column written by members for members! Today we'll hear Tori Roze's take on Jessie Lark's latest EP, entitled After Hours.
Image description: Photograph of Jessie Lark, barefoot and dressed in a blue nightgown and robe, sitting on a piano bench in front of a piano. Jessie's right hand is on the keys, and her left elbow is on the piano, with her left hand cradling her head. At bottom of photo in white text reads: "After (H)ours. Jessie Lark"
Mark my words: musical artist Jessie Lark, a.k.a. Jessica Lerner, is going to be a household name. A San Diego-based musician, Lark penetrates the music scene with her honest approach to creating sound at home. As an original songstress who knows the capacity of her heart AND her own personal playing/singing/writing ability, the fact that she practically does everything herself is testament to the beautifully realized and highly-marketable vision that is her debut EP, After Hours.
The EP boasts five “hearty” songs (pun intended), guiding the listener through varying emotions while maintaining an unshakable constant: Lark's dazzling voice. Her placement, nuance, and tonality are untouchable; her lyrics are paramount to the driving force of each song – she’s got a story (or five) to tell. It is a soothing pleasure to listen to Lark envelop your sonic sensors as she easily floats over the entirety of her voice.
Not only does Lark sing like a bird, but she caresses her piano like a lover whose touch will never tire. The musicianship on After Hours comes across as the much-needed complement to Lark’s pristine vocal expression - emotive and thoughtful. The album swirls with piano + synth + lead + backup vocals all provided by Lark, while intermittent “visitors” drop by on meticulously placed guitar (Lark's husband Kevin Viner and Austin Moorhead), saxophone (Dante Lewis), and synthesizer (Viner). The mix (Viner) is delicious, warm, and meaningful. The production (Viner) is diamond clear – this is some of the most cinematic and licensable music, and it’s all on one album: it’s undeniably good.
The first song off the EP, titled “Come On,” begins with gorgeously low piano notes resounding in the abyss. There is a grandness to the production: as if the room in which it was recorded had epically tall ceilings lending to a cathedral of open acoustics. Despite the openness of the sound, this song feels intimate and seductive. The vocals are yearningly confident. Lark paints us a picture of her dream lover, whom she wishes to possess. She enticingly repeats the chorus, “come on, come on, come on, don’t leave me this way...I know that you think about me...I promise I won’t behave.” The urgency of her message grows as the song continues - violins tug at imaginary heart strings as Lark’s volume and strength explode; she, acting as puppet master to the listener’s feelings. This song could easily be inserted into any film whose subject is forbidden love or secretive relations (like the unimaginably successful Twilight series). Lark leaves you hanging on until the very last note, as she hits a final breathy “t,” proclaiming “this is your green light.” Her delivery is so direct that you wish you were the fantasy she needed. This is definitely the most passionate song on the album; a smart choice by Lark as the first track one experiences.
Lark completely switches gears on the second tune, “Love Don’t Change.” Specifically, we’ve moved on to a modern country-pop jam and entered what seems like the world of a romantic-comedy: where lessons in love are a-plenty.
The scene is set with a slow-dancing guitar and piano softly embracing one another. Lark’s voice joins in solid two-part harmony, perfectly-pairing the music and the vocals like great wine and cheese. If Notting Hill hadn’t already existed, this song would belong on its soundtrack. The lyrics express loving reverence for an ex-partner who left a positive and permanent mark on Lark. It’s a story most of us can relate to; it’s also the stuff of great songwriting.
“Go Slow” immediately picks up the rhythmic pace. Playful bouncy guitar (Moorhead) and piano set the tempo – the vibe is road trip music. Flawless vocals and lyrics touch on the beginning phases of liking someone and not knowing where it’s headed. This is an easy-listening song, literally embodying the aural desire to “go slow.” The piano and guitar play in harmonious country-like unison, strengthening the rhythmic core that propels the song forward. The backup vocals add a touch of femininity as they gently appear in support of the chorus. You know a piece of music is well-balanced when all of the instruments as well as the vocals are highlighted; a prime example of masterful production.
“Fly Away” starts out like a proper singer-songwriter tune – piano and vocals. Self-reflective in nature, Lark speaks about letting someone go “over the rainbow,” describing her feelings of that loss as she feels “colder now.” There is an impenetrable dissonance underlying the tone of the song; it is almost as if Lark is acknowledging where there is light, there is also darkness – the good with the bad, new beginnings with bitter-sweet endings, and life with death. The saxophone (Lewis) tastefully sails over the melody, as if it symbolizes the person whom Lark was singing to. Lark ends the song like a prayer, quiet and gracefully calling out to God for the prompt reunion with her friend. This is an affectionately thoughtful love-note to the recently departed.
The final song, “Under These Sheets,” tells you everything you need to know from the title. Much like “Your Body is a Wonderland” by John Mayer, this song has a future being played on repeat at weddings. The lyrics are exactly what you would assume they would be – an exploration of the entirety of someone you love while being held in the safety of their personal warmth. A cozy feeling of security overtakes you as its catchy chorus reverberates in your head, “I’m never climbing out from under these sheets.” Romance oozes from the very fabric of this song. Like a lullaby hypnotizing you into a waltz, this song begs to be put on repeat.
Five songs aren’t nearly enough to satisfy the amount of Lark’s music one gets hungry for after hearing it for the first time. The production is excellent and the result of a thoroughly stunning dream-team (props to Viner for mixing/production and Geoff Pesche for mastering), but the true winner here is the songwriting. Great albums come from great music, period. The versatility and self-sufficiency with which Lark composes original music shows that she has a long and lucrative career awaiting her in the music business, whether it be performing the music herself or writing it for someone else. She’s so good, she can do it all. Lark is testament that those mind-blowing records can all be written and recorded at home.
Have a listen to the brilliant EP After Hours on Spotify as soon as you can. You can also catch Lark performing live on Instagram @jessielarkmusic - every Sunday at 3pm PST.
For more info: www.jessielark.com
Image description: White background with black vertical text on left side that reads: "boss ladies." At center is the artwork for Jessie Lark's EP (see above for description). Layered on top of photograph is a yellow circle with black text that reads: "artist Jessie Lark. ep After Hours. reviewed by Tori Roze."
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