Ghost is available at:
Petaluma, U.S.A./London, U.K.
FOR the next few reviews/features, I will be looking at international talent…
concentrating on U.S.-born talent (for the most part): two New York-based bands; following up with NINA- a German-born Electro.-Pop star. For today, I am investigating the gorgeous Melinda Ortner: born in California, the young Pop star has crafted quite a career; obtained and achieved some notable honours- had her music featured in some prominent places. Before I get to her, I am keen to explore a particular topic: the range and ambition of female singer-songwriters. It is a subject I raise in a lot of reviews- most of them in fact; even when reviewing male singers- but today it seems quite prescient: my featured artist is a striking and unique talent; someone that does not fit into mould- her music remains in the imagination. I am not sure why the male-led songwriters seem (by comparison) homogenised and narrow- the females are leading them by a mile; they have much more at their disposal- and are championing the merits of the new music scene. I know I bang on about artists like FKA twigs and such: my passion and exuberance does not start and end with her. If you consider Soul/Pop artists like Adele; some terrific young acts like Lianne La Havas; the wealth of Electro.-Pop acts coming through- there is so much to behold. The men do have a sense of mobility and range: they go from Folk to Pop; Electro. to Rock- yet there seems to be fewer (male artists) than female. The last male solo artists that impressed me- and I mean really bowled me over- was James Blake: his 2013 masterpiece Overgrown is still in my mind- since then, there have been few that have made an impression. When it comes to the females, there are more (making larger steps); sticking in the mind- causing excitement and inspiration. When Pop is used as a starting-point- rather than being exclusively explored- that is when yu get the big reaction- tying it to Electronica and Soul; infusing some Blues and Rock together; by being inventive and intelligent, you create something more fascinating and nuanced. With the girls leading such a revolt- even now, I am thinking of other great female artistrs and examples- I am always excited to witness (a new example). Before I raise another point, let me introduce Melinda Ortner to you:
“With her debut album still to come, Melinda Ortner is quickly climbing in the music industry, both abroad and at home. In 2011 she was the grand prize winner of MTV’s “Steal The Spotlight” contest, and was chosen as one of 15 songwriters of the year for ASCAP’s Johnny Mercer Project. She was also semi-finalist for the IMWSC Songwriting Contest while her song “Something You Said” was featured on STAR 98.7.com’s indie playlist. She has three recent song placements in the feature films, ‘I Hate Valentine’s Day’ by Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), ‘American Pie 7: Book Of Love’. She’s written for Chevrolet, and recently licensed a song to Glen Ballard’s young new artist also working with Desmond Child and The Jonas Brothers. In August 2011, she opened for Joe Jonas, Miguel and Cobra Starship at the official pre-VMA show at House Of Blues, LA. She played the 10th Annual Jeff Buckley Tribute with host Jack Osbourne, and performed with Magni Ásgeirsson (finalist from the CBS show “Rockstar Supernova” in Iceland). Furthermore she won “Best Performance” and “Best Song” 4 consecutive years at the West Coast Songwriters Showcase. She got to perform at Kate Hudson’s Christmas Party last year and was voted “Best of Sundance Music” also performing at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She was featured on PCTV and invited to perform the ESPN Dinner Party and several film premieres which led to writing the theme song for a feature film in Finland called “Gone With The River”. The track made it into the top 100 Billboard charts in Finland. In 2011 Melinda completed a successful 4 month self-assembled Europe/Japan tour that led to great press reviews, radio and TV interviews, sold out concerts and a scheduled follow-up tour late 2012. In the meantime she’s completed another US West Coast tour, and regularly play shows in LA. She was also the main subject in a documentary released in Europe, where cameras followed her around for a year, filming her walking six dogs at a time to pay the bills whilst writing melodies for her album, then running off to the studio or a gig or some Hollywood meeting. The music video for her first single “Heartbeats” has more than 45K views on YouTube,” and has been licensed for over a dozen wedding videos, promos, and company websites. Several of her tracks have also been aired regularly on MTV2, Showtime, HBO, USA Network, Pay-Per-View, as well as the Comedy Central, The Sundance Channel, and the Movie Channel.”
At the moment, I am fascinating by foreign talent: mostly those located around the U.S. It may seem axiomatic; the U.S. has some of the best up-and-coming musicians around. Ortner was raised in California- and currently resides in London- and seems to have seduced her home crowds. After extensive touring around the United States; now based in the U.K. she is finding a loyal audience here. With the likes of Mrs. Skannotto and The Falling Birds (two terrific U.S. bands); American musicians are starting to gain influence; make their way to our shores- or at least come under our radar. With so much attention paid to British-born acts, it is always great to discover something different; international talent- artists that differ from ours. Ortner is one of the most fertile and ambitious musicians to come out of the U.S.; her music stands her aside distinctly- her unique voice is evocative and exhilarating. I love British artists a lot, yet it is wonderful to look further afield.
If you are new to Melinda Ortner, it may be worth looking at some of her idols: included is Goldfrapp and Fiona Apple. The way these artists have their own (unique) voice, so too does Ortner: she is not your run-of-your mill singer; her voice mutates and develops- depending on her song themes and subjects, her voice adapts. A lot of modern singers are too reigned-in and predictable- that is not the case with Ortner. When the moment calls for it, she can go from heartbroken to upbeat; whispering and fragile through to a sky-scraping high. It is worth judging the star on her own merits and voice: that said, if you want an idea of where she came from, the likes of Apple and Goldfrapp are key. One of the best things about Ortner is her sense of range and ambition. No too songs really sound alike; she never likes to rest and play it safe- always stretching herself and creating something new. Ghost is one of Ortner’s newest compositions: a song that is mature and introspective; quite subtle in places- powerful and evocative in others. It has an ear and sound that places it somewhere between classic Soul territory and modern-day Pop/Soul. A soothing and sensational blend, the song creates new memories and ideas on each spin- one of her most developed and brilliant tracks. In her earliest days, Ortner came out with Somethin’ Sorry– a track that gets out of the blocks from the first moment. It is usueful to see where Ortner is now- and how she has developed- to get a real sense of her music. Funky and stomping, jazzy and spritely, the song gets inside your head. A packed composition fuses matching piano and dancing notes- a whirlwind of colours and emotions. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face, it showed Ortner was fully-rounded right from the first moments. Not willing to do a string of cover versions- and produce early songs that are effete and naïve- she is mature and confident here. The song looks at temptation and forbidden fruit: wanting something a little wrong and different; wondering if (her lover) is the one for her- and he is the right man. In the earliest moments, Ortner understood the importance of diversity and surprise: Another Chance seems like a very different beast. Here she brings in influences such as The Beatles and Radiohead. In the acoustic-led moments, I am reminded of The Beatles-era work (especially McCartney’s compositions); as it becomes heavier and Rock-ier, there are edges of Radiohead- circa-OK Computer. Sweet Little Lies (recorded a few years ago) is raw and emotional; both contemporary and classic- looking at deceit and treachery. I’ve Got You is chirpier and youthful; cute and seductive- as or heroine yearns for something better. With The Right One (piano-based and soft) the song builds from tender beginnings- building to a rousing climax. Issues of love and repression mingle; feeling trapped and alone- wanting a better life. Ortner’s subject matter has not varied too much (and need not either). When she launched her career her writing varied between fun and uplifting subjects- being in love and happy with her lot; the compositions matched this bonhomie- to more introverted matters- heartaches in love; feeling strained and anxious. Ghost (and other up-to-date cuts) tow these lines: a variation on the theme, perhaps there is a tendency towards the latter- writing songs that are a little more grown-up and contemplative; perhaps more fitting with the expectations/sounds of the mainstream. That said; Ortner’s compositions and diversity is still in place: she cuts loose and has fun (on some numbers); not always committed to being down-to-earth and investigative. Whilst her discourse and thesis lean towards love and loyalty- and the nature of relationships- this shows Ortner has matured and developed. A more fully-rounded and striking songwriter, her lyrics are tighter and more impressive; her melodies more addictive and nuanced- her songs packed with more detail and fine moments; more assured and bold. The biggest change/difference is Ortner’s voice: it has certainly come into its own. While earlier compositions maybe employed shades of her idols- and tried to fit into the current Pop scene- now her voice seems more personalised and variegated- more gripping and beautiful; impossible to compare with anyone else; more emotive and heartbreaking. No One’s Gonna Love You Like This- a track recorded around the same time as Ghost– sees Ortner in fine voice; the composition is swelling and emotive- the chorus is one of her most catchy and stirring. Improving and evolving (with each new track) it means the future will be very exciting: the American becomes more captivating as time goes on; who knows what a forthcoming E.P./album could contain- and the impact it will have!
We are here to look at Ghost: a track that has taken Ortner to Cannes; has its own little life- and is gaining a reputation and positive acclaim. It is not hard to see why (it is gaining such a reputation); why the public have fallen for it- the song has hints of the current scene, yet maintains Ortner’s sense of identity and flair- fans of her older work will find familiar threads. Starting with a romantic and tender piano line, the introduction is pure and delicate: something quite entrancing. Early on, our heroine is piecing things together; trying to figure things out- she has closed doors and broken bonds; things have changed and there is a sense of regret. Running around in circles, feeling isolated- Ortner is coming under scrutiny it seems. Whether based on real-life fall-out- or something based in fiction- it certainly comes to life: one suspects relationship breakdown (or falling out with friends) has inspired the song- maybe some important bonds have been severed. Ortner (in these early exchanges) feels backed into a corner: people are blaming her (for problems and mistakes); voices and fingers are spiked- there is that sense of pressure and struggle. It seems the judgement of others is off the mark: there’s that assumption (Ortner is looking) for someone to save her; rescue her from strife and sorrow- that she needs a life vest of sorts. With her voice firm and resolute, there is that feeling of rebelling against expectation and common opinion: here is a young woman who is strong and mature; not someone that needs babysitting and constant interference. Making sure proceedings never become mordent and depressed, the composition has a lightness and sense of openness- not too upbeat, instead it perfectly keeps emotions appropriate; never betraying the lyrics. It appears a relationship has broken down- whether a friendship or romance; I suspect the latter- and there is regret for sure. Our heroine laments circumstance; the fact she (has pushed her subject) away- as things are now, all she feels is a ghost. With a memory haunting her mind, there is a feeling of desire: the need to go back in time and do things differently; have her beau by her side- at least get the chance to renegotiate the past. Ortner’s voice multiplies and layers- creating a spectral and spine-tingling choir- as she looks back at the wreckage- “I buried it all/Watched as you called.” Both emotional and vivid, the lyrics put the listener into the song: each person will picture the scenes; become involved with the drama- and root for the heroine. With the song (developing into something) rousing and electrifying, it exceeds the limitations of current Pop- which tends to be quite one-minded and thread-bare- showcasing Ortner’s unique talents. The love (she had) was “too hard”; the fall-out still reverberates- she pulled the heart out (of her man’s) chest. Contrary to most similar songs- which blame the man; casts aspersions and assigns blame- here the tables are turned. Ortner owns up to her culpability: she acknowledges her role and regrets her actions; changes the gender roles and shows honesty and bravery- that comes at quite a price. Whilst she knows the truth, she is receiving scorn and derision- corned in; everyone seems to be against her. Perhaps our heroine is turning into a ghost: that feeling she is detached from her heart and soul; the need to float away and escape the stresses. With her man fresh in her memory, she is looking around- expecting to see him there. The composition goes from tender (and piano-led) to something pounding and emphatic- a fuse of Pop-based sensibilities and something Electro. Eliciting the maximum amount of emotion, the composition packs quite a punch: in the chorus it is particularly bold and punching; the vocals layer and rise- ensuring the words get right inside (the listener’s mind). It is that chorus that is the most effective tool: with its memorable lyrics and haunting imagery, there is a mixture of sadness and energy; beauty and sorrow- making it a hugely stirring thing.
Never cynical or predictable, Ghost is a very personal tale: coming off the back of a scarring break-up, the song is an exorcism of sorts. Never bogged-down or uninspired, the track is constantly enthralling and wonderful. From its sparse and gentle introduction, the song runs the gamut of emotions: going from soft and shy to sparkling and thumping. Ortner’s voice ensures the lyrics are brought to life: the performance is consistently impressive and emotive; the words memorable and economical- she does not cram the track with needless lines and moments; everything is tight and to-the-point. The composition allows the vocal to stand out front: whereas other songs/artists lose clarity and decipherability, here every note and word is clear and crystal- making the song that more impressive and professional. It is hardly surprising Ghost is going to feature in a film; it has received such praise and applause- it is one of Ortner’s most rounded and confident songs. The song seamlessly fits alongside the current Electro./Pop/Soul palette of today: nestling itself alongside the best of the bunch, Ortner is an artist that has plenty of ambition and passion- reminding me of the St. Vincent and Robyn. With that in mind- and seeing how female Electro.-Pop/Soul artists are coming through- where does Ortner fit in? I would definitely rank her with the best out there (and the likes of St. Vincent). If you consider songs like Digital Witness– from St. Vincent’s last album- that mixes additive brass with a witty and cutting lyrical theme (the shallowness and downsides of social media). Ortner has always put her pen away from the predictable ink pots: she likes to write from her own perspective; with regards lyrics and composition, she pushes boundaries- one of the most innovative songwriters around. Ghost shows the young singer in reflective mood: wearing her heart on her sleeve; it sees her at her most emotive. Whether it is the sound of future releases- or if she will mix it up and incorporate different themes- time will tell. As it stands, it is a stunning and gripping track- one everyone should investigate.
In a few days I will be looking at German-born singer NINA: an Electro.-Pop artist that is creating a lot of buzz and excitement. As (my next two reviews) look at male-led bands, it has been great spending time with Ortner: a terrific female artist with a big future ahead. The signs are all rosy and positive: with a stunning album under her belt- and a slew of great songs and accolades- the young American is not going to stop there. Since I Wanna Be Ok– Ortner’s 12-track album released last year- she has been a busy lady- touring around the land; creating new songs and ideas. Four years ago Ortner released Somethin’ Sorry; she followed that up with gems like The Right One and Caught in the Middle– with each new step she gained confidence and stature. As things stand, Ortner is at her very peak: Ghost (released a few months ago) shows how vibrant and assured she is; the songwriting and performance is insatiable and mesmeric; the production values allow Ortner to shine and wow- it is a track that will linger in the mind. With regards to future plans, I am not sure what is in mind: maybe Ortner will plump for a new single; an E.P. or album perhaps? To be honest, she has the options and audience: whatever she decides to do, there is a hungry and dedicated fan-base waiting. From what I have heard- and bearing Ghost in mind- it would be great to see an E.P. Ortner launched Ghost in Cannes- the song is going to be featured in a film- and she is busy touring. Next week she heads up to Edinburgh (to play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival); recently she has played around London- she is one hell of a busy musician. There are a lot of young female artists coming through- that marry Pop with Electro. and Soul sounds- and not all of them have long-term success. It is vital to have a unique selling point: something that seperates you from the crowd; a style and personality that draws in faces- and an artistry that makes you distinct and attention-worthy. Ortner has a down-to-earth talent and great beauty; a terrific set of lyrics and ideas- her music is constantly evolving and improving. An assured and stunning singer, her voice has shades of classic Soul artists; little sprinkles of her idols- including Goldfrapp and Fiona Apple- and plenty of vintage shades (being a fan of The Beatles and Pixies, she knows about quality and making an impression). After the dust has settled; when Ortner is less full-on and busy, it will be exciting to see what she does next: I am sure the business of music-making is going to be at the forefront. With a sea of vivacious female artists bursting through, it is great to see an artist with genuine durability and sustain. Make sure you check out Ghost; follow Melinda Ortner across social media- and keep your eyes peeled. Maybe she’ll stay rooted in London; perhaps she will return to L.A. and the U.S.: one thing’s for sure- whatever she decides to do- it is sure
TO be something truly special.
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