Photographers: Marlene Fulde; Matthias Kinder.
On her solo work, Berlin-based indie-electro artist Masha Qrella has always placed a significant emphasis on songwriting, even as early albums such as Luck and Unsolved Remained had their abstract, detached moments. 2012's Analogies was her poppiest collection of songs yet, and 2016 follow-up Keys continues in that mode. More than ever before, her lyrics are direct and emotional, declaring earnest, longing statements such as "I want to be with you" and addressing depression and drug usage (as on "Rescue Pills"). She has a knack for delivering hard statements in a smooth manner; "Simple Song" is calmly defiant, telling an ex-lover that it isn't OK to mistreat her to the tune of a sweet keyboard melody and a leisurely tempo. The music is often minimal, usually consisting of simple electronic beats (which behave like live drums), gentle guitar lines, and atmospheric synths, but it never feels spare or unfinished. While the more uptempo numbers on previous Qrella albums were informed by glitchy minimal techno, they're much closer to disco here, albeit a sad, introverted type of bedroom indie-disco. "Pale Days" adds suspenseful synth waves and echoing backup vocals to its pumping 4/4 beat, and highlight "DJ" finds her in the mood to listen to nothing but Neil Young's On the Beach when she's supposed to be spinning dance records for her friends. A few songs feature eerie background voices or incidental city sounds, adding some tonal color and making the songs seem a little more tense and paranoid. Soul-baring and confessional, Keys is Masha Qrella's most assured album yet. ~ Paul Simpson