Back From The Dead
A Portals by Melanie Martinez Review
Since the release of Crybaby when I was a pre-teen, I have been a long-time fan of Melanie Martinez. The edgy, childish aesthetic did irreparable damage to my 12-year-old psyche in the best way possible, and continued into high school thanks to K-12. Now, in her third full album, Portals, she has turned into a Faerie who is coming for my adulthood. She shifts from a twisted depiction of 1960s femininity to a grotesque yet mystical approach to her music. Though she is on the cover of the album, she is nearly unrecognizable in her appearance—a stark contrast to her iconic, two-toned hair from her previous discography. However, Portals continues her love of taking the hardships of adulthood and putting them in fantastical terms.
The first song on the track, ‘DEATH', is one of the more metaphorical songs speaking upon the relationship between the living and their dead loved ones, and the cycle of life and death. It starts out with her soft and melancholic style with spacious strings to create an orchestral atmosphere. Then it abruptly shifts to aggressively brutal percussion and electronics. Even her backing vocals reflect this. When she first sings “I’m back from the dead” the background vocals singing “death” are peaceful but when the song shifts, her background vocals scream the lyrics instead. These shifts in atmosphere and instruments vividly reflect the aforementioned cycles of life and death.
‘Death’ is the perfect song to open this album with. Not only does it prepare the listener for a journey of abstraction, it prepares them for the variety of genre influences Melanie Martinez uses in each song. Songs like 'EVIL' use a lot of electric guitars and drums to make an intense, almost rock sound. Others like ‘LIGHT SHOWER’ use softer balladry to a romanticizing effect even if the lyrics can be a little more bizarre such as:
But you made me want to
Plan out my last days on earth, eating you
The tips of your teeth fit perfect in me
You're a shower of light I'd devour any day of the week
Baby, cleanse me
- from 'LIGHT SHOWER'
Even stranger is her wide-use of instruments. 'VOID,’ 'SPIDER WEB,' ‘THE CONTORTIONIST,’ and ‘NYMPHOLOGY’ all open with harps, adding a magical tone. However, these mystical openings are sometimes complemented by the sound effects Melanie Martinez uses in the songs. 'SPIDER WEB' uses bites while ‘THE CONTORTIONIST’ uses the sound of broken bones. These sound effects and unique applications of instruments allows each song to forge its own identity separate from other artists.
Melanie Martinez adds further variety to her songs by dividing some into their own entities.
The last verses of "FAERIE SOIREE" (referred to as ‘Venus’) silence all instrumentals and end on a shower to lead into ‘LIGHT SHOWER’ while 'NYMPHOLOGY' (referred to as ‘Amulet’) end on a harsh, car-crash-like sound to lead into 'EVIL.' Rather than just jarring and shocking the listener, these nuances help the songs transition into one another.
Overall this album’s variety in genre-influences, instruments, and imagery mean that there’s something for everyone from avid lovers of Tolkien and fantasy or the burnt-out folk who want to feel understood. It strikes the perfect balance of poignant yet absurd with a beautiful voice to carry you through its twists and turns.
Personally, this album works better if you approach them as poems to listen to and analyze. That isn’t to say you should write an essay whenever you hit play, more so that having an analytical eye can be a fun side quest to go on while listening.