By: Pete Laffin
Boulder's Pamela Machala just put out a great pop EP.
Pamela Machala kicks and booms on the keys, and she croons with conviction. She has no anxious inner voice warning her to “reach the note” or “nail the transition.” Her songs become her, and when she reaches us, we aren’t quite sure how we feel, but we feel so much. That, to me, is a mark of a great player: one who induces disorientation, who provides the listener a multitude of emotions at once with opposing forces like tumult and serenity, elation and sorrow.
This isn’t to focus too narrowly on the experience of Machala’s set, which is also precise and musically sophisticated. She told me recently she spends most of her days “thinking up those elusive qualities that make for a perfect bridge” and that she “loves sprinkling the harmonic and rhythmic complexities (especially meter changes) of jazz and R&B into simple pop forms.” You likely wouldn’t notice how tight and sophisticated her music is, the way you don’t notice a referee who goes a whole game without blowing a call. You’re too busy enjoying the experience. It’s as natural as any live performance you’ll see on the local circuit. It’s as if she presses a play button in her mind and shares with us what’s on the track.
For these reasons and more, I fully expected to be underwhelmed by her newly released LP “When I Get Home.” Players with such a natural boom tend to overthink things in the early-going of their studio careers. I expected something clinical and technically accurate with a risk or two taken, perhaps an alien-like quadrupling of vocals on a chorus in a silly attempt to recreate the intensity of her live performance.
But by the second track, “Do It Now,” my fear of such studio follies dissolved. This slick, funky groove is a reflection on jealousy and urgency in the face of seeing the accomplishments of others on social media. It showcases her innate understanding of how to grow a song from small to big using volume dynamics, which is a force she wields well on stage. It also demonstrates her inclination to hop back in time. “Do It Now” has the qualitative feel of “Use Me” by Bill Withers, while delivering lyrics that are decidedly modern. This combination is a gamble for sure, and it takes the listener a verse to acclimate, but it never rings false. Machala’s vocal performance on this track is clear and accurate, but has enough soulful scratch to maintain the integrity of her live set.
The third track “Yestersols” is another bright spot of the album. The production is big and ambitious: the undulating piano line, the electronically infused fiddle lead, the faraway, ghostly high end vocals on the chorus. At first it feels ripped from the Coldplay playbook, but the quality of the songwriting unfurls as undoubtedly superior, particularly at the bridge. You won’t see it coming, as it offers such change both rhythmically and melodically, and yet it fits squarely within the context of the whole.
“I Still Love You” is a classic songwriter’s love song. Machala sits solo at the piano and croons unapologetically with her thundering vocals. The leaps she takes from note-to-note are jolting. This is a song Norah Jones or Anne Murray would be proud to sing. It would fly in any generation, and the lyrics are universally relatable. There will be times this song will prick just the right part of your heart, and there will be other times you wish it would challenge you more.
“Barista” is a track that speaks most directly to Machala’s commercial potential. If I had to predict a “hit” on this record, this would be it. It showcases a heavy, modern beat (think Ben Folds’ “You Don’t Know Me”), a freaking sweet sound on the organ, a catchy hook, and cleverly cute lyrics: “I got a degree/I got another degree/And now I got 140 degrees.” My only wonder is, again, whether or not the subject matter matches the depth of the musicality. It is just so damn well executed that, in my opinion, it begs for a broader and more penetrating focus. That said, this song could very well lift-off from local obscurity to national notoriety overnight. It’s that catchy; it’s that well executed by Machala, who may be a transcendent talent; and it’s that well produced.
The grand takeaway from “When I Get Home” is this: Pamela Machala is a big, fresh talent to keep an eye on. Her musicality is as user-friendly as it is intricate, and Machala’s vocal performances are revelatory. And more than any of that, she seems to want success, and she seems willing to put in the work that success demands.
I would be shocked if Pamela Machala didn’t thrive here in the Boulder scene, and wouldn’t be shocked if she outgrew it in time.
Listen to Machala’s full LP “When I Get Home” here.
All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.