Briana Marela’s success as an ambient, experimental musician partly stems from her ability to remain vocally direct when singing about emotional struggles. But her talent also stems from the lush soundscapes she creates. Call It Love, her fourth album, was a chance for the Seattle native to move further into synthpop substance, but the beautiful, luminescent prisms she resides in often fail to reach emotional ground.
One of her strongest assets is her immaculate vocal style, reminiscent of Enya in her holding one-word notes over several beats until the fade. Call It Love is ethereal in many ways—choral notes are pristine and pure; they float through the air like sparkling confetti. But Marela also uses overlapping time signatures and layered beats to lend variety, turning toward funky drum styles and dance grooves.
But early on in the album, a disconnect looms—as if the ugliness and reality of love has been stripped away, leaving just the sugary rim.
When faced with tough emotional issues, she just runs out of energy. On “I’m Sorry,” while pleading “I can’t get through to you,” she appears unwilling to go beneath the surface to find the disconnect. Unable to reach resolution, the music simply unravels at one point. Too often Marela seems insulated.
She does sometimes confront the most transparent of feelings: physical lust. On “Feel What I Feel,” she asks, “Our bodies moving, ‘cause else are they for?” equating the heat of the dance floor with experiencing guttural, animalistic instincts. But lyrics like, “I see us laughing, sipping drinks, having fun” is a zero-calorie sweetened memory of idealistic love.
One of the more noteworthy parts of the album is the sea change halfway through, with “Quit,” about a breakup and its aftermath. Suddenly, Marela’s vocal loops and manipulations reinforce her urgency, with clashing, tumbling percussion setting more of a dance-pop mood. Anger and a sense of finality follow her accusation that he simply gave up. The song recalls strains of Bjork’s electropop weirdness and haywire synths, although here it’s a much more watered-down version.
But Call It Love works best in those woke moments. “Feel What I Feel” continues “Quit”’s sense of awareness with its fluttering, shuffling synth notes. Amid the tight synth rattles, mini buzzes and funky beats on “Give Me Your Love,” she eventually gets attached to that need, repeating, “I want it all” as her vocal loops drink in the message.
The effort to look for deeper meaning in the candy-colored tones on Call It Love only leads to quick evaporation, with no lasting emotional benefits. On the album’s last song, “Rise,” Marela’s cathedral-flecked vocals signal a last-ditch effort to “find my way.” There’s no doubt she can reach the clouds, but where is it taking her?