Mesa Jane – This Is How The Meek Riot
Philadelphia based singer/songwriter Mesa Jane has, over the course of two preceding releases, has quickly carved out a niche for herself as a purveyor of outstanding and cutting edge pop music with fierce individuality. Melissa Olivieri is a one woman band – her latest EP This Is How the Meek Riot consists of four songs with her handling keyboard duties and vocal chores alike. Her songwriting clearly takes some of its lessons from eighties pop songwriting, particularly sonically, but the high entertainment value of the music doesn’t mean it lacks musical substance. The evidence that Olivieri is a talented vocalist comes early on and subsequent songs only underscore the point. Moreover, she has a superb ear for presentation and the songs on This Is How the Meek Riot possess warmth and a balanced mix certain to appeal to many.
Her songwriting also touches on universal themes in modern life everyone can relate to. “It’s Still Free to Laugh” is a relaxed, mid-tempo opener with an artfully presented positive message that manages a nod to life’s difficulties. The electronic percussion and other keyboard sounds musically propelling the song are focused on establishing a groove and do an excellent job. Olivieri shows that she’s far from an average pop singer – her vocal is remarkably solid and the song incorporates multi-tracked harmonies that demonstrate her range. The distorted digitized opening to “Everybody Knows” sets up a darker atmosphere for the song than what listeners might expect going in and Olivieri quickly elaborates on that theme. Despite the electronic sound, “Everybody Knows” has a rock and roll spirit and she does a fantastic job alternating between restraint and vitriol.
The starkly beautiful piano opening “Waking Up to the Sound of a Machine” is soon joined by light electronica effects. This is a carefully constructed song with gorgeous melodic strengths and, arguably, the EP’s artistic high point. It makes its impact through accumulation – Olivieri doesn’t show all her cards at once and, instead, surprises listeners with a number of inventive turns scattered throughout the track. “Honesty” concludes the EP and has a much harder electronic edge than any previous song. Olivieri opens the song speaking instead of singing, but soon segues into some of trademark higher register vocals. She has a thrillingly clear vision of how to make the best use out of her voice in these sonic surroundings and doesn’t content herself with just a couple of approaches. The EP ends with a song that reminds listeners of her vast creativity.
Mesa Jane, quietly and without much fanfare, continues to establish a reputation as one of the most imaginative music acts working today. There are strongly commercial elements in her music, enough retro qualities to strike notes of familiarity for listeners, and ample melodic strengths. Olivieri’s voice centers it all with confidence, technique, and unquestionable sincerity. This Is How the Meek Riot is one of the year’s most interesting releases and shouldn’t be ignored.
9 out of 10 stars.