Track Review: Manda- Criminals










Criminals is available at:

21st January, 2014

Pop; Soul


Los Angeles, U.S.A.


THIS is the second consecutive review…

looking at year-old music.  After yesterday’s study of Yearbook- a Hampshire-born Alternative band- I am now across the pond looking at Manda- a Swedish-born, L.A.-based artist.  Manda certainly stands out from the crowd: stunningly beautiful; the blonde hair and tattoos catch the eye; she is arresting and captivating- it is the music and voice that truly drops jaws.  There is a lot of emphasis on how musicians are presented and look- particularly for female artists- and as a result, there is this need to prove themselves.  I shall introduce Manda shortly, but for now, a few subjects/topics come to mind: European and U.S. music; reality T.V. shows and female solo artists.  A lot of my recent reviews have been around U.K.-based acts: It is nice to be able to travel somewhere foreign; study an artist that has quite an interesting background.  Although Manda is based in L.A.; she was born in Sweden: A nation that in itself is producing some tremendous music.  In addition to acts like Swedish House Mafia, The Cardigans and The Hives; we have Lykke Li, First Aid Kit and Robyn.  It is clear Sweden is no musical slouch: Some of the world’s most diverse and interesting artists come from here; some terrific acts are putting the country firmly on the musical map- rivalling the likes of the U.K. and U.S.  One thing that grabs me about Swedish music is the Pop and Electronic acts.  I have reviewed artists such as Say Lou Lou- an Electro.-Pop act from Sweden- who make majestic and seductive music.  Whilst the U.K. makes some great Pop music; Sweden seems to do it better- it is more nuanced and original; wide-ranging and colourful.  Maybe it is the environment and landscape of the nation; the personality of the people and their way of life- something most account for the terrific consistency and brilliance of their music.  Whatever it is, 2015 has seen some of its finest acts stamp out some wonderful music: Make impressions on the scene and promise great things for the year ahead.  In addition to great Swedish music, I am looking at L.A. – where Manda is based- and the artists coming out of the city.  California and L.A. are showcasing some scintillating and world-beating musicians: From Alterative/Rock bands and insatiable solo artists, it is one hell of a breeding ground.

There is a lot of community and competitiveness in L.A.; a range of different genes and claves- a vibrant and bustling city that is conducive to musical ambitions and wondrous sounds.   A lot of British media tends to focus too wholly on homegrown sounds; negating the flow and explosion of talent emanating from L.A. – we should all be more aware of what is happening here.  My featured act calls L.A. her home; is vibing from the city’s cultures and neighbourhoods; the inspiration it provides.  Manda was a finalist on Sweden’s X Factor in 2012, and since then, has been concentrating on a range of music/projects.  In addition to being a musician, Manda has a passion for fashion- as you can probably tell from looking at her.  On her blog/official website, Manda documents L.A. life and the everyday life of the city- the vibrancy and colour; bringing readers into her world.  I am not a big fan of reality T.V. shows- especially those that are music-based- and most of the winners and contestants lack originality; do not make great or interesting music- they do not last long and stay in the public consciousness.  Whether you subscribe to the view these shows foster and find the best new talent- I certainly can never accept this being a music purist- but there are some great artists that come out of the process.  Perhaps not the case in the U.K.; Sweden’s 2012 rostra has produced Manda: A genuinely fascinating artist that has a great sense of independence and style; a future star-in-the-making.  There are a lot of great female artists coming through, yet Manda seems to distinguish herself from the crowds: She does not instantly remind you of anyone else; the way she projects herself and her image are very much hers.  Predominantly she has cut her teeth tackling other artists’ songs: Making them her own and giving them a new and stunning spin.  Knowing there is going to be a future release and new music, I was compelled to check out the Swedish star; one of the most promising female solo artists in the world- someone who wants to make a big impact in music.  L.A. is producing a lot of great solo artists from all genres and avenues: It will be a challenge for Manda to rise above the fray; with her natural ability and strengths, she will certainly get there- someone I am keen to see perform in London.  It is not just her interpretive skills that wow me: The way her voice grips you and gets straight to the heart; the passion and energy infused into each track- few artists have such a natural affinity and ability.  Manda has a great songwriting and original talent too: Criminals shows just what she can come up with; I am sure this year (and 2016) will see the young Swede rising through the ranks and producing some new original music- showing the world just what she is capable of.  That beguiling and unique beauty is reflected in her voice and words; she has a compassion and connection with her fans- an unquenchable and endless passion for music.  In the City of Angels, music is seeing its fair share of divine artists: Would you bet against Manda going onto claim long-term success and adulation?  With few British faces familiar with her work, it is about time more here rectified this.

With Criminals being released last year; having performed cover versions and other tracks- the future will see Manda drop new sounds.  At the moment, we should judge her on Criminals and what is to come.   Previous singles such as Love-A-Holic (released shortly after Criminals) and Sweetest Heartbreak (a 2013 release) shows different side to Manda.  Although Criminals is her strongest cut; Sweetest Heartbreak is a stunning track that is upbeat and pumped-up.  Wrapped in a dizzy array of electronics and beats, it’s a track that compels listeners to stomp their feet and sing along.  Letting her voice pervade and soar, it is filled with energy and passion- showing Manda’s full vocal and songwriting range.  Love-A-Holic is more romantic and calmed: It is a cool and flowing track that has an infectious vocal and catchy chorus.  Perhaps more ‘traditional’ Pop moments- compared with Criminals sound- they see the artist showing how varied and talented she can be.  Manda has collaborated with other artists and proved a hugely versatile and adaptable artist: Her voice perfectly fits with hard and gritty tracks; those that are more serene.  It would be good to see Manda open a SoundCloud account- there may be one but cannot find it- that puts all her music/collaborations/covers in one place (at the moment they are on iTunes).  She has released some great singles and I believe preparing an album- although I might be wrong- so it is likely we will see these songs sit alongside one another perhaps?  What is certainly is the stunning Swede has a terrific songwriting mobility that sees her move between scenes and stories; tackle a host of topics with aplomb and full conviction.

It will be exciting to see what 2016 holds for the Swedish artist: Whether her new ambitions revolve around a full album or an E.P.; if some new singles will be released- the odd cover version too.  The past year has seen her recruit new followers and fans; spend time writing and performing in L.A. – plan her next moves and introduce her music to the wider world.  At the moment, few of us in the U.K. know about her sound: The majority of her fan-base is split between the U.S. and Sweden; more people here should be aware.  That will all change very soon, but for now, Criminals is a confident and stylish slice that fully exploits and showcases her voice; the urgency and commitment put into the music- the effect it has on the listener.  If it comes to comparing Manda will anyone else- drawing in other singers to the fold- there is a U.S. vibe to the vocals.  Sounding like it could easily settle alongside the best of the mainstream, there is plenty of soul and beauty to be found.  That said, no one name springs instantly to mind; Manda ensures that her unique and particular sound remains intact; there are little shades of U.S. Pop acts- nothing that is too obvious and counterfeit.  The music itself is quite populist and universal; again, there are little shades and slights that her peers do not possess- a perfect mix of ubiquity and individuality.

Criminals begins its defense with some tender and rousing piano.  Sounding romantic and insistent- with a gorgeous sense of serenity- it is a great way to beckon the track in.  Our heroine is putting up a front and investigating events- as the initial words come pouring out.  Making sure her voice remains firm and in-control, there are memories and questions of a drunken night: It seems her and (an unnamed man) had a regrettable encounter.  Whatever the situation- and however the coming-together occurred- it seems the heroine does “not regret it”- it is a rather unexpected sentiment, and something that intrigues and compels early-on.  That beautiful and strong piano line keeps flowing and pushing the song forward; the vocal is determined and imbued with soulful touches- maybe the drunken encounter was a fight the two had.  Whoever the hero is, it seems he is worth the fight and any stress: It seems people do not get their love; the reason they are together- they are being persecuted and judged unfairly; having to justify and explain themselves.  The early phases are definitely Pop-orientated and mainstream-sounding: Fans of current U.S. idols and singers will find some familiarities; those looking to dip their toes into the genre will find something accessible and impressive- a song and sound that is far sturdier and more fascinating than the majority of Pop songs.  Their love and relationship is instinctive and right; the people they are surrounded by are judging them like criminals- you start to wonder the history of the duo; what they have been through and the clashes they have faced.  It is clear the two have fiery and explosive personalities: There have been some blow-ups and explosions; some ill-tempered moments for sure- perhaps the odd break-up and flair-up.  The video for the song sees the pair frolicking and engaged in romantic surprise: It is all chaste and very touching; playful and happy- defining and italicising their innocence and togetherness; how made-for-one-another they are.  There are plenty of songs that look at taboo love and recriminations: The Pop market sees many examples present colour-by-numbers tales of we-shall-not-be-discouraged-in-our-love sentiments; they usually are over-dramatised and over-emotive- clichés flying all over the place.  Manda ensures her tale does not suffer such shortcomings: That controlled and stunning voice ensures the words and feelings hit the mark; the composition is sparse and gentle- you are forced to listen to the words and how much they mean (to Manda).  It is “incredible how low they’d go/just to shake us” our heroine tells: So-called ‘friends’ and communities tearing them apart and pouring poison.

Maybe the hero has a shadier or less appealing side; something a little unusual and distinct- someone who is not ordinary and they can’t handle that.  Were he just your average dull-as-dishwater guy; someone that was like everyone else- then the love would be solid; nobody would have an issue.  You feel the guy has a passion inside and is like our heroine: Someone that stands from the crowd and lives life differently; occasionally lets emotions come to the surface- at the end of it, a person that is dependable and romantic.  Ensuring the words remain simple and effective, you not only imagine and sympathise with the words; you have a song that so many people can relate to- how many of us have been in that same predicament?  That combination of illicit love and discouragement is something ubiquitous and universal: Manda has been through the emotions and survived and carried on- damned what anything thinks or says.  With that said, there is still emotion and some heartache: That desire to be accepted and people to be supportive- rather than see the bad in everyone.  By the time the chorus comes back around- and that lack of regret; the fight that was worth it- you have more insight and puzzle pieces.  The people- whether family or friends- were dumb to try and break them; foolhardy to stand in the way- they are being taken-down and scolded.  The passion and love the two has will overcome all the hurdles- it does not matter what anyone else says or does.  The song never really lets its temper flair until the 2:00 mark.  By the time the chorus comes to its end (second time around) you can hear an augmentation and gear change: The vocal gets more insistent and pressing.  Most Pop artists would needlessly through Dub-Step beats or huge electronics into the track- to express the heartache and desire- and muddle the song.  By doing that, it makes it too bracing and overpowering; it distills the messages and core.  Manda’s voice and songbook is in focus and will not be outshone.  The heroine will not “ask for permission” for the way she feels; there seems to be that suppression and need to rebel- people who keep on try to cause ruction and fracture.  A modern love-against-the-odds tale, it seems timeless in its definitions- it has shades of Romeo and Juliet and classic love stories- and everyone roots for a happy ending (for our pair).  At every stage of the song, you are sucked into that vocal performance which is always emotive and stunning- blending a distinct mix of Soul-cum-Pop; plenty of heart and grit.  The lovers are under “lock and key” and trying to break out of the prison- that need to run away and emancipate themselves.  In the final seconds our heroine makes her point known: she keeps asking questions about innocence and justice; why she is being treated this way- that anger and need to be understood.  It is evident the central lovers have had a chequered path and a hard road: By the song’s end, you wonder whether they will be okay; if they will ever manage to be accepted and be happy- or constantly have to fight and explain themselves.

It is rare to find a new Pop artist- for me at least- that has so much potential.  Criminals is a song that deals with some common themes and tried ideas- staying in a relationship people do not approve- but Manda presents something fresh and stunning; gives the theme new life and energy.  When reviewing Rock and Alternative bands, I find myself become a little repetitive- the vocabulary and adjectives do not vary much- but with Manda new ideas, words and phrases zing to mind; her music provokes clear imagery and some rather vivid possibilities.  Great music should do this: Make the listener think beyond the lyrics.  With terrific production and a fantastic composition, Criminals really comes to life: It is a song that remains interesting throughout; rarely does it remind you too fully on anyone else- that said, there are some nice evocations of existing U.S. acts.   With Manda’s strong, passionate and soulful voice reigning; you get a track that is strong enough to please Pop-lovers- in addition to recruiting new fans and those who bridle at the genre.  Maybe not quite strong enough to completely reinvent Pop; Criminals is a stunning and honest song that does not hide or shrink: It screams its intentions and has such a huge amount of force and nuance.  I have been playing the song over and finding new treasures and possibilities- it all bodes well for future releases.  If the Swedish star is planning an E.P., it would be good to see some Criminals-esque tracks- that look at forbidden love and battle-against-the-odds.  I know Manda has a full and vibrant palette; her writing and ambition could see her tackling all manner of topics- she is not an artist contented to just stick with love/relationships.  If you are new to Manda and her music; take a dive and discover an artist that will be more synonymous in 2016- and brighten a rather too-close-to-Monday afternoon.

Having assessed a lot of bands and male artists lately, I am pleased to have the chance to review and study a great solo artist: Someone who has a clear desire to succeed and develop; an artist that is writing new material and planning a fresh assault.  Her online portfolio is expanding and her fan numbers if increasing: With each passing week, she is recruiting new followers and attention.  Criminals was released nearly two years ago, yet it shows how effective and impressive Manda can be: A song that is both instant and memorable; it takes a few listens to really get to the bottom of it- that central voice is certainly one of the most immediate you will witness.  Before I round up, I want to return to my earlier points regarding international music and female artists; talent shows and the state of music.  One of the most important parts of music is encouraging and promoting great solo artists.  That side of things is suffering a little lack of fortune and quality: The mainstream especially has few genuinely great solo musicians.  Aside from the established and well-known solo acts, the newer examples coming through are quite uncertain and patchy.  New music is perhaps more reliable when it comes to quality and distinction: The female artists are especially stand-out and formidable.  Whereas the chaps still tend to stick with the acoustic-guitar-and-heartache parables; the girls are more endeavouring and explorative: Not just confining themselves to something singular and predictable.  Manda is a Soul/Pop voice that is going to develop and flourish.  Her itinerant and prolific posts- on her official website- show an agile and curious young woman; someone who wants to see the world and experience all it holds- this will come through in her music and musical ambitions.  Her eye-catching tattoos and colourful and stunning fashion sense shows an artist that could never be boring: Manda has a distinct flair and spark; something that should/could not be extinguished.  Having reviewed the likes of ADI- a similar artist when it comes to looks and style- and you can tell whether an artist will make it or fall.  The solo scene (in the underground) is promising some tantilising and glistening talent.  I have had my head in British music recently and have neglected the joys of U.S. music.  Manda’s Swedish heritage and personality comes out in the music; L.A. has inspired and compelled the young heroine- the difference and diversity of the city has propelled and captivated Manda.  I am always going to loathe and be against talent shows that deal with music: Most of the contestants in this country want fame and money; you do not need to go on a talent show to make it in music- it is an easy route and rather cheapens what other musicians are going through.  This is not the case for Manda who does not want the trappings and cheapness of fame: She is dedicated to music alone and making sure people hear her voice and love.  Three years from her finalist slot on ‘X Factor, she is now embarking on a new material and projects; next year will be a hallmark one for her: A chance for the music world to witness her in full flight; see how that voice and ambition translates in the studio.  Being familiar with her cover material and Criminals– and the way she can own any song she takes on- I am excited and pumped for her.  Taking all my points into consideration; the dominance of the band market still- it is always vital to make sure great solo artist get a platform and a chance to shine.  Music is such a tough and challenging industry; something that demands full-time commitment and dedication- it means a lot of sacrifice and due diligence.  Manda is not an artist that simply puts the music out there and expects it to grow and succeed.  Keeping busy with fashion and blogging; all avenues of lifestyle commentary and business.  A curious and intelligent mind; Manda is sure to see her curiosity and dedication pay off- the next year will be very important indeed.  Criminals may just be a window into her music and talent; a brief snatch of what is to come- it certainly shows what she is about; just how much ammunition she has at her disposal.  If you are looking about for a solo artist that has a clear desire for big-time success, then keep your eyes on the multi-coloured and vivacious Manda.  I am excited to see how far she can go and whether an E.P./album is going to be dropped soon- I am sure we will be told more in due course.  For now, I am going to say goodbye to L.A. and Sweden- the great music and beautiful views they provide- and see what is coming next.  I am encouraged to think music could grow and surprise next year: There are so many promising and exceptional artists coming through, it is going to be really exciting to see that unfold.  For a Sunday that is dangerously close to Monday; the final hours of work freedom- we all need some escape and something to get lost in.  With that in mind, have a listen to Manda at her best.  Someone we will all be hearing more from…

AS the new year gets ever-close.


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