At first, I’ll admit, this sounded a bit unvarnished for my tastes. But “Bad Lover” wins me over through the hypnotic power of its central motifs, not to mention the appealing, unaffected tone of lead singer Melissa Ahern. And even though I’m not sure I am on board with all of the production decisions made here, in the end, count me as a fan.
I think it’s that lovely descending guitar melody, itself comprised of delicate, ascending arpeggios, that worked steadily on my resistance. Although obviously electric, the guitar has an organic glow to it, ringing with a palpably physical vibration, so different from the flat sounds that too often emerge from today’s laptop music. I love how the guitar plays in and around the beat with almost a sense of swing, as its melody repeats and repeats through the length of the song. Note too that each iteration sounds distinct and handmade, with subtle variations in how the notes are being played and enhanced. With just the guitar playing, a sparse beat, and Ahern singing her counter-melody, we’ve got pretty much of a win right there.
But there is in fact more. For one thing, keep an ear on the bass, which asserts a melodic presence in the chorus starting at 0:55. A second guitar sound enters just after the two-minute mark, and this is when the song for me acquires a sense of rootedness. The second guitar scuzzes up the soundscape at first, comes front and center for a short instrumental, then grounds the rest of the song in the hint of its droney edge. At 3:22, the two guitars at last enter into direct relationship with each other, and their interactions, while not flashy, provide splendid closure to a subtly powerful piece. I don’t think these guys are perfect yet (and who is?), but there’s something wonderful, already, in the music of this still-developing duo.
Ahern and bandmate Andy Stack are half-siblings. Originally from Western New York, they are now based just outside New York City. “Bad Lover” is a song from their debut album, which they self-released with the help of the fan-funding sit RocketHub. You can listen to the album and/or purchase it via Bandcamp.