Joyful, sophisticated, dense, funky, intelligent, addictive, crazy-quilt soaring rock. I never thought I would write a review with that combination of words in it, but they all describes, CYLVIA, the debut EP of Cylvia, a band that just might be best new LA band of 2015. Listening to this album is like getting behind the wheel of vintage Chevy convertible and discovering that it is really a Lamborghini and you are coming down the PCH at full throttle.
Cylvia was carefully assembled by Zach Villa whose instincts for music and talent are on the money. Seven superb musicians move together on this record like a single, living, breathing, rocking organism. The effect is almost scary if it wasn’t so much fun.
Front woman Lindsay Claire is the very definition of fire and ice. She morphs from punk to blues to white-hot burning rock with a personal touch honed from her work in theater and her family of musicians and performers. She blends perfectly with the diverse creations of founder Villa and the precisely integrated drumming of Eric Grivala and bass grooves of Justin Gagnon. Adding a ready-for-prime-time depth is the lead guitar of Manny Grijalva, keys by actress/musician Amy Landon, and Steven Good’s rhythm guitar and vocals – all cruising at the speed of sound with rock steady Villa and his guitar in the cockpit.
The EP starts off innocently enough with the title track, “Cylvia”, moved along by Grivala’s classy light-touch drumming and just-below the surface bassline and pastel-hued guitar picking. Zach comes in with shrewd lyrics imprint themselves on your mind with words that have an internal tempo of their own, like pop haiku. Just as you begin to think about the multiple meanings, the drums power up, the keys rise like a monster wave, the background vocals and guitar riffs reach for the sky and you are off and flying. The timing, arrangement, emphasis and tempo are perfect.
As you recover from “Cylvia”, Zach takes you to a totally different place in my favorite song on the album, “Desert”, which starts off with a clap-beat and fast-talking gospel-rock style full chorus vocals. A guitar kicks in, the funk beat lays down and your foot starts going and the joy moves up your spine and hits your brain and then it stops as and Lindsay Claire puts her woman-power moves on you with a nuclear-energy blues-belt in the furnace-hot chorus: Oh mama what have I done/burned my clothes and buried my gun. “Desert” rocks along shifting from funk beat to soaring rock to down and dirty hit you in the gut blues belts. And it all works – a unified whole of fast-moving funk beats and powerhouse voices.
The next stop in this funhouse mirror-maze of music is “Get Away” a slow burn of seduction pop with a message that almost makes you think you can follow the lyrics and get away from it all — until a wall of riffs, punk-themed drums and high voltage vocals hit you. Villa takes you into an internal rave, shooting electricity with guitars and Claire’s counter vocals echoing in the background before shifting into an earworm alt rock number with the infinite depth that only seven people with three guitars superbly interlaced can achieve. Stunning!
And then we take another turn with the gentle, almost Americana ballad “Lie to Me”, a plea for truth and certainty with love. I know I’m young and I don’t have plans beyond tomorrow’s sun/but you bring out the best of me that you make me want to plan for more than one. Zach took 4 years to write this song, and he put four years of relationship experiences – good and bad into it. As always , Villa’s signature style change takes over, shifting the mood and the tempo, although more subtly, with a piercing keyboard riffs that launch Claire and Villa’s give and take vocals into an new altitude of urgency and hurt. Once again the power of three guitars comes forward, with Manny Grijalva’s electric guitar riffs shoot sparks that catch fire while the rhythm guitars add a satisfying depth to the soaring chorus. The song is about lies but the music is truth.
“Love Ya” takes us back into the fun house with synths and speed-injected guitar riffs that create an alien landscape. Villa’s voice is twisted like the cackle of an evil clown as it pitches you into a metal head world, but one with wit. Propelled by Grijvala’s blurred-finger lead guitar and jackhammer baseline tightly woven with manic drums, “Love Ya” mainlines sonic energy into your aural veins that makes your head bob, your feet move and your ears grin.
The EP wraps up with “Hallowed Halls” , a fast-moving pop/punk platform for Claire’s gentle voice and the harmony she can Villa bring to the band. As always, the baseline snakes in and out and around fast-moving snare beats while the three-guitar section scaffolds the lyrics, and occasionally moves out with solo licks. And as always, there is a shift in mood, tempo and feel, but done so subtly that it deserves an immediate second listen. A perfect wrap for the EP – energetic, clever, familiar, unique, addictive.
CYLVIA lays down a marker for Zach Villa, Claire Lindsay and the band, setting a very high musical bar in a town where the talent is already some of the best in the world. “Desert” has all the markings of a break out single hit, and the entire EP showcases a monster talent that is only getting started. A Lamborghini ride on a funk rock musical highway.
By Patrick O’Heffernan. Host, Music FridayLive!
CYLVIA by Cylvia
Available at https://soundcloud.com/cylviatheband/cylvia-1