Ramona Lisa - Arcadia

An endearingly frustrating record that deserves more treatment than it is given, if only for its stellar lyrical content.

After collaborating with Beyoncé, Caroline Polachek’s Ramona Lisa seems like an odd direction to take. But with each repeated listen, and further dissecting, ‘Arcadia’ is a showcase of Polachek’s songwriting mastery that prefers to subtly impress, rather than blindingly amaze.

Full of avant-pop created entirely through midi devices, it’s an album that focuses primarily on Polachek’s impressive writing chops, as well as her ability to diversify her already grand and pastoral aural palette. Made with the cheapest and most minimal of tools, ‘Arcadia’ shows that very little is capable of holding back her talent.

The lo-fi charm of the album is immediately striking, marking a stark contrast to the glossy pop of Chairlift. The sounds are clearly synthesised, sometimes deliberately crudely. The instrumentals draw more from Oneohtrix Point Never’s ‘R Plus Seven’ than they do from Chairlift’s Technicolor ‘Something’; the only ‘natural’ element is Polachek’s stunning vocal. They’re quite often muffled, but it only adds to the forlorn nature of her delicate sound. There’s a sense of confinement. ‘Wing Of The’ is a perfect example of how far Ramona Lisa can be pushed as a project, but there’s a continually nagging sense that Polachek is somewhat above it all as the album progresses.

The delightfully obtuse and sometimes anxious sketches on ‘Arcadia’ are what make it both enjoyable, and frustrating. The songwriting on display is among her best, even if around half of the songs sound as if they’re still in need of some additional tinkering. It’s certainly an artistic choice that’s to be appreciated, but the suffocated beauty at first seemingly deserves a stronger backing than what’s provided. It’s an endearingly frustrating record that deserves more treatment than it is given, if only for its stellar lyrical content.

Fortunately enough, if the foreign sounds linger for long enough, what seems like a glaring error becomes a minor nag, and perhaps a surprising highlight.

Tags: Ramona Lisa, Reviews, Album Reviews

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