Born in Panama, Michelle Blades moved to the United States at the age of seven, bought her first ukulele at the age of eighteen and moved to Arizona where she started recording her first EPs. Soon after she was off again, this time doing a tour of house shows in Europe at the invitation of the artist based label Camaraderie Limited, which led to a longer residency in Paris, where she partnered up with Midnight Special Records. This wandering soul has never rested. She released her debut LP Ataraxia in 2015, and two EPs Polylust and Love Songs followed closely behind. Half Mexican herself, she put together a band in Mexico, Michelle Blades y Los Machetos, also lending a hand with music and arrangements for Laurie Briard and playing bass in Fishbach. Her latest Visitor is soaked in this restless hybrid of folk sounds, chants and melodies.
Whilst borrowing heavily from Latin American tradition, Visitor is rich in influences ranging from psychedelic experimentation, to Kate Bush-worthy stabs of eloquence, to heart pinching vocals and sweet and mature pop that bring Cate le Bon to mind. The record kicks off with the quick rhythmic guitars of ‘Politic!’ which are joined by quirky, punchy vocals and subtle electronic loops. It’s a funky cross between pop and electro, rooted in melodic indie rock guitars and there are even Joy Division-esque melancholic strums lurching in deep beneath the sugar coated pop layer. This gentle, sweet pop interspersed with twirling, fuzzy guitars spills over to ‘Behind the Black’; a song nuanced with more controlled vocals, slowly sculpted through psychedelia and the folklore of the Middle East. ‘Kiss Me on the Mouth’ is everyone’s indie pop hit with an immediate charm and a powerful pop chorus whereas ‘Ring’ veers off the quirky into a classical pop path, reminiscent of the drone rock harmonies of Sharon van Etten.
We’re thrown into darker, punkier edges of the record with ‘Dr Psych’; a brilliant play of intersecting and manipulating the sweetest sounds of pop with wild and sharp garage plunges, chaotic riffs and punchy drums taking over from the opening pop of the song and spinning us out of control into perhaps the most experimental and psychedelic track, a gem of its kind, the hypnotic ‘Piri Piri’. What Michelle Blades does brilliantly across Visitor, well versed in sounds with an array of influences, is capture and bring out pure, fun and charming pop from the depths of the complex layers of the breadth of her experimentations. It’s reminiscent of the twisted, folk driven pop tales of Devendra Banhart, and draws on the same pop charm in ‘Piri Piri’. The record finds a peaceful moment with tracks like the atmospheric and drawn out ‘Time & Water’, tiny acoustic moment ‘Literally’ and the sensual, noir, almost cabaret-esque and seductive ‘Acid on the Hillside’, with its raw violin solo which will tear your heart apart, as Michelle softly whispers in our ears that she’s not a visitor anymore.
The final song ‘Behaviour’ dips into all of the melodies, rhythms and vocalist ventures of the album, leaving us with an overwhelming appreciation for a versatile, complex record with Blades fluent in music’s many languages. It’s a piece of work that is mastered, accomplished and meticulous yet utterly, beautifully wild in its assembly. In all that, she invents her own musical hybrid with a record that’s bold, complex and very much her own.
Review by Anna Siemaczko