The bohemian style of artistic life has always seemed like a very romantic one to me. The idea of an artist just upping and heading to a remote place for some unknown amount of time with nothing but a journal and a guitar and just writing for themselves. In today’s world of rushing about and the constant flow of nauseating crap of social networks, it would be easy for you to assume that that way of life was all but gone from the world.
Well you’d be wrong. Zella Day is flying that flag for me.
She embodies many things that I love about great artists and song writing - interesting, sometimes cryptic, lyrics; a fashion sense from days of old but made very much her own; music that is greater than the sum of its parts - she is the kind of artist that the world needs.
On first listening to “Kicker”, I was immediately hooked with the sound of the guitar in the opening of the song “Jerome”. Before I’d even heard her stunning voice, my first thoughts were that if the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks had a rock night, Zella Day and band would go down really well. This first song also demonstrates her vocal abilities - varying her style throughout the song from verse to chorus to coda. From whispery, almost Stevie Nicks-esque sounding, to the controlled screaming of the songs title in the chorus.
The next song, “High” brings more focus to the massive drums and chugging rhythm guitar and does, by all accounts, have the parts needed to qualify as a rock song. But to label it as just a rock song, or a rock album for that matter, I feel would cheapen the album. Zella is bringing so much more to the mix that I don’t think a simple label is possible. It would be like calling Kate Bush simply a pop singer.
“1965” changes the sound up by focussing more on piano from the start and then using more minimal drums and climbing strings throughout.
“Hypnotic” is one of my favourite songs on “Kicker”, with one of my favourite riffs, and at just 4 seconds shy of 3 minutes, this song is as catchy and full of a hit song as they come.
“Mustang Kids” changes things up again with half of the vocals provided by Baby E, telling the story of a small no-name town with nothing good to do in it.
Small town gang got nothing to do
We got guns, got drugs, got the sun and the moon
We got big city plans but it always rains
And the sheriff is a crook and knows me by name
I said momma was insane and daddy was a criminal
I grew up in a trailer with a dream of fucking centerfolds
Now I’m making money experimenting with chemicals
The fact I’m still alive is why I still believe in miracles
Mustang Kids, Kicker
With “Jameson” we can hear a beautiful finger-picked guitar ballad that oozes country music sensibilities - with that slide guitar sound that is so engrained into country music. When you hear a song like “Mustang Kids” and then “Jameson”, you really get a sense of Zella’s versatility as an artist.
Easily my favourite song on “Kicker” is the album’s penultimate track, “Sweet Ophelia”, which is one of those songs that build up to a huge chorus with a slightly breakbeat drum beat that reminds me of Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole” beat. The musical arrangement serves to complement Zella’s voice to the final big chorus of the album and leads perfectly into the final song, “Compass”.
“Compass” is the perfect final song for an album with this much energy. A piano ballad that brings Zella’s voice to the forefront as she leads us back to our daily lives that more enriched.
All of Zella’s songs, whether they be huge anthemic belters or mellow acoustic ballads, are all rooted in quality song writing and a unique vision. I also learned through watching her video series, Day X Day, that she writes all of her songs on guitar first - with the idea that they could all be played acoustic with no accompaniment if she wanted.
When you hear a song like “Hypnotic”, it may be hard to imagine it stripped back to vocal and guitar, but when you listen to her play it like this, you realise that her songs could either fill a stadium or a coffee shop. She is the very definition of a versatile artist.
I hate to use the term “X-Factor”, as that phrase is now synonymous with crap TV, but Zella Day definitely has that unknown ingredient that makes her musical vision and style special.
She is an artist whose career I will be following closely, and I strongly suggest you do too.