Review: Lelia Broussard – Masquerade (2011)

I see big things for Lelia Broussard’s voice. It’s sweet but not annoying. It’s got texture, but not so much that she would narrow her audience. It’s original enough that you won’t think twice to compare her to a Michelle Branch or a Colbie Caillat. I remember listening to Rise, an early release some years back: the difference in sound and conviction in her voice on Masquerade is staggering. Broussard has clearly worked very hard to channel her own voice, no longer somewhere between Stevie Nicks and Liz Phair – that work has payed off. I don’t know what the secret behind mastering her voice is. It may have a lot to do with experience. She’s tried and tested different ways of communicating and on Masquerade, I feel she’s at her most open, her most intimate yet. Still, for me it almost isn’t intimate enough. What keeps me from sympathetically bearing her guilt, her fears and frustrations with her is the major-label-style production.

« Shoot for the Moon » mentions moving to LA from New York, and the production on this album sounds like she’s done just that. But I was then dumbfounded when I learned that her fourth opus was recorded, produced and arranged in the Big Apple by and with Brooklynite Dan Romer (Ingrid Michaelson, Allison Weiss, Jenny Owen Youngs). So while California has apparently not left its surfer-music imprint on her songs, there’s still an incredible sweetness to their production. Which is too bad because some of these songs are really sad and I wish the production reflected some of the gravity in her songwriting.

The grace of this album is found in Broussard’s humor and self-awareness with telling lyrics like « Hipster bitch, God knows I’m nothing like her… ». Well thank goodness. If independent music was made of « hipster bitches », there would be no range or diversity. I applaud her for sticking to her guns and making independent music that isn’t the most trendy with the « hipster set » but that attests most truthfully to her personal taste and aesthetic aims. She isn’t reinviting the wheel, but she’s still authentic.

For this reason alone I can’t say it isn’t a good album. But beyond that, it’s enjoyable and worthy of finding its way onto charts. Ms. Broussard and her songs are crowd pleasers, between « Masquerade » and « Hipster Bitch » there’s much material to decorate an episode of your favorite TV dramedy. That may be a little too saccharine for some, but it doesn’t take away from the strength of these ten songs, most worthy of your attention, all leaving me curious to hear them just a little more bare.

Lelia Broussard
Official | iTunes

Rating:6.7/10

15 Comments

  • Tamer says:

    Wow, this writer is really off. Lelia Broussard is far and above beyond what is out there. She is poised to TAKE off this year, and Ina totally missed it.

    • ina.j says:

      I don’t get it. In what part do I insult her or her talents? I did say I saw big things for her and I doubt she won’t take off. I think we agree.

      • Cyberkrinn says:

        Ina, your review is luke-warm. You certainly don’t insult her or her talents, but there’s a lot of negative in the tone of what you wrote (whether you intended to convey negative or not). Still, it is your opinion and if the album didn’t rock you, then it didn’t rock you. It has, on the other hand, rocked many others, as has much of her earlier work, and we are ready to see her take off.

        As for what you said about the lack of intimacy in her recently produced music, maybe you would do well by watching her performances on YouTube or even catching one in person. Her energy is palpable, as are the feelings she is conveying in words and music. She is a great talent and a young one at that. I don’t see her at all as a Michelle Branch or Liz Phair…she’s more in the category of Ingrid Michaelson, Brandi Carlisle, Juliana Hatfield, or even The Weepies. There is great depth to her music, even when she delivers it with an upbeat tempo…kind of like Ani DiFranco, only not as angry.

      • ina.j says:

        I’m actually a bigger fan of Liz Phair’s earlier albums such as “Exit to Guyville” than I am of most of Ani DiFranco’s work. I wouldn’t put Lelia Broussard anywhere near Ani DiFranco because the latter is far more politically versed than the former in her songwriting. Also, Ani Difranco is often programmed at jazz festivals and distributed by jazz labels for her voice and percussive fingerpicking. Lelia Broussard writes and makes efficient pop songs that are perfect fit for radio. I personally wouldn’t compare them.

        As for the lukewarm review: half a review is subjective and the other half is objective. The objective part of me thinks she’s got immense talent as a songwriter and a performer. The subjective part of me isn’t as moved as I am by other albums so I couldn’t give it a 10.0 all of you wish I had. Furthermore, I’m not a fan of Ingrid Michaelson or Brandi Carlisle. That’s what makes my review worthwhile: if I was a fan of all these artists, what I wrote would have been predictable. But as a non-fan, I was still able to enjoy her work. It’s easy to convince fans but much harder to convince others.

        It’s not about looking for an angry artist, or which artist fits your personal agenda, for me it’s just about what gets under your skin. While there is great depth to her songwriting, it doesn’t get under my particular skin. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, she’ll probably go on to be very successful because she’s talented and clearly from what we’ve seen today: she has a solid fanbase. So what does it matter what I think?

      • Tamer says:

        No, I think you give back handed compliments but dished with a side of negativity and sarcasm. Your choice, your blog, but not something I would ever come and read again. Make up your behind, but don’t play it both ways.

  • Cyberkrinn says:

    Lelia Broussard is one of the best female artists I’ve heard in a LONG, LONG time! I’ve been listening to her since she started out and way before others began to follow. Her music is fresh and uplifting, even when she is singing about the sadder aspects of life. Her music is vibrant and hopeful.

    She is a true talent who’s love of what she is doing shines through, especially when you see her perform in person. She is supported by a wonderful family and group of loyal followers because she is just that good.

    If you haven’t had a chance to hear her, now’s your chance. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/choose-the-cover-of-rolling-stone-free-downloads-from-round-two-bands-20110401 Give her a listen! You won’t be disappointed!

  • Lindsay Jankowicz says:

    Ina,

    Your review is quite confusing. You don’t like Masquerade because it’s not sad sounding enough, because it doesn’t have surfer influences, and it’s too “major-label-style” for you? Because the lyrics are sad but it doesn’t sound sad? Isn’t that a decision best left to the artist? You’re one you should understand. I’d encourage you to give the record another listen and see if your criticisms really hold weight. Were waiting for you to join us as a true Lelia fan.

    Thanks,
    Lindsay

    • John says:

      Hey Lindsay,

      The surfer influences is more a general comment on how California tends to influence music. It permeates all genres, and her comment, to me, seems to be a relief that Lelia’s managed to not allow that commonality to be imprinted on her music. For me, to try to be that intimate with such level of quality production is contradictory to being intimate with music. That has nothing to say about her music being tremendous, it’s a personal taste that I share as well. It’s a certain aesthetic that lends itself better than high quality production. Little nuances draw you in, while polish smooths over these imperfections or nuances that could lend more intimacy to such lyrics.

      Generally it could be a decision best left to the artist, but albums are not really made in a vacuum unless you’re recording the album purely by yourself. Even independent artists can be influenced by those running the boards at a studio by some degree. I’m a fan of her music too, though there’s some little things that can come out, be more intimate. However, at the same time, I admittedly like the production. It’s a little give and take in music.

      Cheers,
      John

  • harmony thibodeaux says:

    ina-
    huh?…please repeat, in English…

  • Sondra Harkins says:

    Lindsay,
    Your review to me seems to be more of Lelia’s personality than of her musical talent. You compliment her originality, her dedication, her authenticity, her grace, her humor, and her self-awareness. Yet as far as her outstanding musical talent, you only speak to the texture and mastery of her voice, plus her expanding experience, both evident in each album she produces.

    While you made reference to range and diversity in your blog, it was to independent music as a whole and not specific to Lelia whose talents exhibit a wide vocal range and whose music is quite diverse. She is a talented singer/songwriter and I feel that would have been a valuable addition to your blog.

    I was conflicted by the dichotomy of your opinions, the double negatives and contradictory compound sentences. For me it was difficult to determine whether you believed what you wrote, but I am glad we can agree that the album is finding its way onto the charts due to the strength of the ten songs Lelia chose. I hope you do get the chance to hear a little more.

    Sondra

    • ina.j says:

      Sondra,

      Thank you for your concern. I will try to keep the double-negatives to a low the next time I review an album – it’s good to be kept on your toes on the quality of your writing.

      But I’d like to insist, this is an album review and not a performance review. I listened to Lelia’s last three albums and took great care in listening to “Masquerade” many times. I’ve also listened to a lot of other albums in the past year. I based my review on the fact that she’s talented and her songs are great but that the album, as production, doesn’t get under my skin. I’m looking forward to listening to her next release to see if this changes. And that’s okay. I’m not the average person and I’m certainly not a tastemaker. But it isn’t fair to say I didn’t “listen enough” or that my review isn’t sincere because I didn’t give the album a higher rating.

      The fans commenting to this blog post convinced me on top of what I already wrote that she’s got a solid audience. And if she has an audience, she can keep touringn, keep writing, and keep getting more fans. This review isn’t going to stop her but it certainly won’t be altered.

      Ina.

      PS. Mezzic is a blog full of different contributors with different opinions. I hope you don’t stop reading it because you don’t like mine!

    • Sondra Harkins says:

      I directed my first response incorrectly to Lindsay though it was meant to be directed to Ina. My mistake and apologies to Lindsay.

  • Sondra Harkins says:

    Ina,
    Thank you for your response. I wouldn’t ask you to alter your review as you are entitled to your own opinion, however I am now going to ask that you revoke your misquote of me.

    You stated in your response and I quote…
    “But it isn’t fair to say I didn’t “listen enough” or that my review isn’t sincere because I didn’t give the album a higher rating.”

    I never said that. Perhaps you were speaking to someone else and misdirected it to me. This was my first time reading the blog on Mezzic and if your opinions and approach is in any way reflective of the other contributors or the type of content accepted by Mezzic, I am not interested in coming back.

    No reply is required, only a correction to the misquote.
    Sondra

  • John says:

    As a note,

    If anyone is curious about what the rating means, please view the About page. It will explain what the score means. 6.7 here doesn’t hold the same connotation as a 6.7 elsewhere.

    Have a good day,
    -John

  • brian says:

    first, i would like to say that all in all, i think this is a fairly well-written _personal_ review of an album. i too am a fan of ms. broussard but think a lot of the back-and-forth about your review is missing the point: it’s your review. you wrote what you thought of the album and for the most part it seems like you thought it was at least pretty good. just the fact that you took the time to review it and not trash it shows that much. other people are free to write their own reviews and say glowing things only if they so desire and i highly encourage them to do so. it’s not like the blogosphere is running out of space. that you took the time to put yourself and your opinion out there, i applaud and appreciate.

    that being said, putting it out there to be judged as a critical piece and doing so on this site, you lay yourself open for critique—more specifically your writing style, your word choice, your choice of content, and that rating scale. and that’s where i think most people who have commented have a problem with it. that it didn’t “get under your skin,” hey, lots of albums don’t get under my skin. and i just realized i’m old enough to write “lots of albums” and not even think twice that i don’t even know if there is a vinyl version of masquerade available. my choice of words gives away a lot…

    to start with the positive, maybe i wouldn’t have put it the same way, but i agree with a fair amount of what you wrote. the difference in sound and conviction between the songs on masquerade and “rise” is staggering. not that “rise” was bad by any means, but like you said, “broussard has clearly worked very hard to channel her own voice … [and] that work has paid off.” you go on to opine about she sounds at her most open and intimate yet on this album, and with this i also agree. and there are segments of the album that could be heard as too “major-label-produced” if you wish to characterize it that way. it’s your review to characterize however you like. i might put it differently, but i get where you’re coming from. and in each paragraph it seems i agree with a lot. obviously, i agree more with more of the positive things you say than with the less-than-stellar comments, but not everybody has the same taste.

    the problem is the review didn’t leave me with the overall feel i expected after reading the first paragraph. i don’t know if that was a conscience attempt to “bury the lead” that you weren’t overly impressed until later or that your wording and style betrayed something deeper. i notice someone caught the use of double-negatives already and whether they were intended or not, they do tend to give the impression of reluctance on your part to say something positive, or at least something “too positive.” i have written a few reviews myself and more forms of other documents than i’d care to admit and generally i have tried to follow the the rule, “if you can’t say something positive or negative, don’t say anything at all.” otherwise you just leave the reader feeling like you were wishy-washy and maybe should have reviewed something you had stronger feelings about one way or another. maybe that’s just me.

    “for this reason alone i can’t say that it isn’t a good album.” i can understand what you are trying to build on here when that sentence is put back in context. but when taken out of context that double-negative makes it sound worse than i think you intended. and the problem is, it’s easy to take out of context as it starts the paragraph. and although it seems like you are trying to build to a “good but not great” review of the album from there, that slippery first sentence loses a lot of people and starts on an off-note.

    i’m also not sure whether an album upon which, “there’s much material to decorate an episode of your favorite TV dramedy” is a compliment. not only does the use of the word “decorating” give the feeling of only being appealing on the surface and possibly “in this season and out the next,” but it also depends upon what your favorite dramedy is and whether you like the music many tv shows choose to use. in some cases, that can be a good thing. “house” used mazzy star’s “into dust,” lucinda william’s “are you alright?” and much other great music. i can’t say the same for many other shows.

    for me, however, it’s the rating and the rating system used on this site that really sabotages the whole review. i can accept that you like the music okay, you’d like to hear it a little more raw or bare, that it didn’t get under your skin, and that you see improvement from this artist who has matured incredibly over the past few years—especially for one so young.

    but the most egregious part of the whole review, which i know is supposed to be “separate” (even though they appear right next to each other and people tend to look at that often before reading), i don’t care what kind of disclaimer is put on the “about” page concerning the scale—a 6.7/10 doesn’t look good no matter how you frame it. no this isn’t elementary school, and that i have to go look on another page to be “reminded” of that is condescending enough (which again, is no fault of yours). but at least in elementary school i knew what the scale meant without having to have it explained to me and worse, be more confused by the explanation than i was by most anything in elementary school. a 6.5 is “very good. buyable, depends on the person.” above 8 means something else entirely. and a 9 means the same thing across the board (“buy!”).

    call me old fashioned if you like, but i prefer a fairly linear scale. a two doesn’t have to be twice as good a one and an eight doesn’t have to be twice as good as a four, but there should be fairly equal gradations between the numbers. otherwise letters or colors would do equally well if not better. numbers are meant to be compared and the standard (in my time) was set by rolling stone and their five-star system. it took a lot to get five stars, but if an album got five stars, you knew you better at least give it a good listen, especially if you like the reviewer and the other bands he or she had reviewed. by simply cutting the scale used here in half, this album would end up with barely over three stars. i’ll admit, this album might not match bowie at his best and deserve five stars and a one way ticket to the rock and roll hall of fame, but to me three stars is what they call in the south “fair to middlin'” and to me, this is far better than that.

    again, that’s just my $0.18 (that was far more than $0.02 worth). and as always, i totally reserve the right to be wrong. or not.

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