Scary Mansion is a trio assembled by Brooklyn singer-songwriter Leah Hayes. Her background is in art and anti-folk, so one might have expected to find an (over)abundance of acoustic quirkiness in this, her latest incarnation. But what we get is something more immediate and accessible.
The opening track, No Law, lays the album’s cards out for the listener in exemplary fashion, making for a brilliantly lively and engaging start in a burst of energetic power pop. With its squally yet tuneful guitars and sweet college rock sensibility, artists like Juliana Hatfield, Belly or the more contemporary Sky Larkin are brought to mind, the latter comparison being even more striking (vocally as well as stylistically) on Scum Inside.
As befits the album title, and running at odds with some of the more upbeat moments, musically there is a pervasive sadness to many of the lyrical and thematic concerns. Over The Weak End is mournful in tone, with of the added strings accompanying Hayes’ tale of how she would “make myself cry”. This tone is extended to the rather too similar Yer Grief which follows it, the gentle On My Mind – all Let It Be piano balladry and navel-gazing – and the final track Look Through Your Eyes’ “Your voice makes me cry”. Even when not overtly melancholy, there is a general soft-hearted or tender feel to tracks such as Fatal Flaw and Mighty.
Hayes’ voice is an appealing one, its breathy sincerity marrying best with the more energetic songs like Scum Inside. It can also do involving and intimate (1%) and convey mental turmoil with the halting hesitations of Mighty.
Less appealing are some of the album’s slower or mid-paced moments which can often feel like filler, particularly when the endings appear to have been stretched out beyond their natural or sensible timespan. The worst culprit is Fatal Flaw, but No Law could also have done with being a little shorter, and Yer Grief feels a bit bland, included merely to make up the numbers. The long, totally silent run-off at the end of On My Mind, before the last track, is simply an irritant. This is a great shame, since the song which follows it – Look Through Your Eyes – is probably the album’s most interesting. Stylistically the most adventurous, with its slinky, vocodered vocal and sparse, spare electronics, it would be a real pity if it got overlooked for this reason.
Overall Make Me Cry feels like something of an inbetweener. Not quite a misfire, yet never really reaching the heights to which the first and last tracks hint. There’s the nagging feeling of potential not yet, quite, fulfilled. Fans of uncomplicated pop rock will enjoy it, but those seeking something more profound or fully realised may be wise to adopt a watching brief on Ms Hayes’ future musical development.