What's a Women to do?
Considering the many wild and magnificent ways Magnolia Memoir has found to steal our collective hearts these past two years, it was only a matter of time before the adventurous, genre transcending five piece ensemble would be out there committing The Perfect Crime—the title of their boldly ambitious, highly anticipated major label debut on Peak/eOne Records.
Driven by the soulful vision and dreamy yet grounded romanticism of lead singer and chief heartbreaker Mela Lee, Magnolia Memoir has captured the imagination of musical tastemakers and seekers of eclectic Triple AAA cool since making their astonishing hometown debut at Largo, L.A.’s legendary proving ground, in June, 2009. They’ve wowed hundreds at King King, The Bootleg and the legendary Molly Malone’s (where they reigned during a two month residency) and have seduced many more overseas in London, Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne.
Critics searching for the right words and points of reference have come up with canny phrases like “multiple shades of amazing” and “Fiona Apple meets The Killers with a dash of The Clash.” Vibrant and infectious yet bold and experimental, Mela and her guys all boast funky, “noirish” nicknames befitting of musical suspects accused of committing The Perfect Crime. She’s “The Instigator.” Group co-founder Alexander Burke, the singer’s true partner in crime who plays piano, vibes and organ, is “The Professor.” Guitarist Aron Forbes is “The Hitman.” Gordon Bash, the athletic upright bassist who thrills the crowd every time he climbs onto his chosen instrument to keep the groove booming, is “The Wild Card.” Drummer Matt Lucich is “The Quiet One” or “The Driver,” whose mix of subtle brushes and powerful skinning is truly the driving force of the band.
Beyond the defining heartbreak in Mela’s voice and the many moods her boys create for her to inhabit, there’s a grace, a sweetness, an optimistic spirit in her songs and timbre that is haunting but also represents the deep joy after the moment of mourning passes. For Mela, whose voice early on in her career was compared to the lush quality of Billie Holiday and later day to the rock edge of Gwen Stefani, it’s all about being “in the moment, existential, emerging from that dark place, finding light and letting go. I formed the band as homage to those historic New York sessions, long past midnight, when ties get loosened and the party begins. The Perfect Crime has femininity and sensuality, but there’s definitely a masculine undertone because I am lucky enough to be surrounded by the passionate energy of four beautiful men.”
In line with these notions, the 12 track collection builds a unique story arc and darts in many fascinating musical directions. For Mela, the poignant opener “Good Girl” captures the longing of everything you’ve ever dreamed of and wanted, against the tension of everything you’re expected to be. At 3 am, our heroine is lying next to her lover, doing everything right but thinking about someone else. She wonders, ‘What’s a good girl to do?’ How do you admit to yourself you are going to hurt someone you love? Then, the title track, “The Perfect Crime,” is driven by a blissful, percussive swirl of bass, vibes and drums. It’s a sly and moody entry into the life—“She’s the perfect criminal, you’re the perfect crime.”
Underpinned by Alex’s blues organ harmony, the third track, “Anymore” is a bright pop-rock anthem that came to life out of Aron Forbes’ impromptu guitar riff at a rehearsal. If ‘The Perfect Crime’ is about the larceny of love, “Anymore” is the getaway. “Broken Cup (Revolution Remix)” is about that dangerous kiss—a gypsy-punk reworking of one of their popular tracks from Magnolia Memoir’s independently released debut. A contrast follows with the delirious, playful, percussive and brass fired love song, “I Keep Falling.” The first single for the ensemble offers a wistful dash of philosophy about having the courage to believe there’s something more and the joy of discovering that there is.
Shifting moods from soft and subtle, the empowering, “Just Might Do” follows that final blow that’s meant to be the knockout but instead leads to an unexpected victory--because she’s strong enough to leave now and expect everything she was ever promised in her life beyond this broken relationship. More than just Magnolia Memoir’s lucky number, Alex calls “222” “a demented little waltz” that evolves into a passionate cautionary tale that rolls as if Quentin Tarantino and Jack Kerouac penned a song together. Our heroine has triumphed over the heaviness and emerges with a life so perfect that anything less won’t do. More fire and a McCartneyesque groove, offset by Alex’s sensual vibes harmony, follows on “No More Wishes,” which speaks to the truth of the expiration date of love: “I’m all out of moonbeams/Darling my sky is dark/You took every star and made a wish/But you forgot what you wished for”--and don’t think you can get her back, either. On The Perfect Crime’s one cover, an infectious, scorching Fiona Applesque take on The White Stripes’ “My Doorbell,” she’s celebrating her new life, basically telling the ex, ‘My life is great now. No need to waltz back in.”
After the essential story wraps with “Let It Go,” a melancholy, sparsely arranged song of goodbye without blame, The Perfect Crime continues with a beautiful acoustic rendering of its title track featuring Mela in a duet with vocalist Matthew Santos (Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar,” “Shining Down”) and the elegant coda “Where You Are” (a vulnerable and heartfelt letter from Mela to her late father).
Emotionally connected to the flow of the upcoming full length album are two bonus tracks – an unexpected and inspirational, rare up-tempo version of “The Rainbow Connection” and the sassy Clash-like pop-rocker “Chelsea.” which will be available digitally only as a special preview four track EP prior to the release of the album. “Good Girl” and “I Keep Falling” from the album are the other two tracks included.
Every Perfect Crime has a fascinating history behind it. Mela’s resume includes luxury car valet, catering, being a junior associate at a private investment bank, doing extensive voiceover work and singing with Andrae Crouch’s gospel choir. Alex earned a degree in Jazz Composition from Columbia College and a masters in Film Scoring from USC. He has performed on the MTV Movie Awards and worked with numerous top-flight players from across the musical spectrum, including Joey DeFrancesco, Jon Faddis, Guitar Shorty and Joe Labarbera. He also appears on Margaret Cho’s 2010 Grammy-nominated Cho Dependent, alongside Fiona Apple, Ben Lee, Jon Brion, Tegan & Sara, Ani DiFranco and Grant Lee Phillips.
Mela and Alex met through Ben Zolno, a longtime friend of Alex’s whom the pianist worked with at Second City in Chicago when Zolno was an actor and Alexander played piano while enrolled as a jazz studies major at Columbia College. When Alex heard that Mela was a singer, he initially wasn’t interested—until he heard her sing and perform. “Most musicians don’t like to work with singers because they tend to sing at you,” he says, “but Mela plays and interplays with the band beautifully. I also loved her mix of traditional and experimental sensibilities. Those qualities and that sense of taste were there when I first saw her.” Mela had most of the material for Magnolia Memoir penned and was looking to create an ensemble rather than simply have a backup band. The two hooked up and had an immediate chemistry.
“From the first moment Alex and I played together,” she says, “our arrangements, musicality and interplay was honest and magical. When it came time to record tracks to submit for licensing, we gathered a dream team of players, all of whom we had worked with individually in the past. No matter how many shows we do, every time I’m onstage, I can’t believe I was parking cars and now I get to do this. I’m like, ‘You mean there’s a chance I’ll get to do this with these guys for the rest of my life?”
There’s no doubt she will. Naturally—it’s all part of the multiple shades of amazing that go into the planning and committing of The Perfect Crime.