Gentle and elegant, “El Matador Beach” unfolds slowly. Melson has an arresting voice, at once very direct, in a Jenny Lewis sort of way, but also with a subtle, engaging quirkiness to it, a muted theatricality of tone. Her voice feels particularly central to the developing song since it proceeds without percussion for 1:45; the most concentrated sound we hear during this slow build-up is Melson’s self-harmonizing in the chorus (1:12), and the effect, over the song’s oceanic sway, is angelic.
When the drumming starts, syncing beautifully with the melodic bass line, the tidal feeling expands out of the lyrics directly into the music, accentuated by the way the hypnotic chorus expands to fill most of the song’s second half. It almost prompts inexplicable laughter, a kind of bittersweet spiritual delight, to hear a song this committed to beauty in this most un-beautiful year.
Sara Melson is a singer/songwriter based in Los Angeles. Following her graduation from Harvard she became a successful television actress in the ’90s, appearing on shows like Frasier and Beverly Hills 90210. But over time, stifled by the cliched characters she was playing, she found music to be a more fulfilling way to be an artist, happily trading mainstream success for the chance to express herself authentically. (And what a better place the world might be if everyone felt this way.)
“El Matador Beach” is the first track on Melson’s new album Safe and Sound, her third full-length recording, released earlier this month. You can listen to it in full as well as buy it via Bandcamp. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.