Maylee Todd

Acts of Love

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Toronto singer/songwriter and visual artist Maylee Todd makes a big shift on her third album, Acts of Love. After one record, 2010's Choose Your Own Adventure, that was bossa nova-influenced and another, 2013's Escapology, that was like a live band soul album with bits of jazz and funk in its DNA, she took matters into her own hands and retreated to her home studio, mastered a range of synthesizers, and emerged with an album that sounds like a missing piece of a puzzle that includes Sade, Aaliyah, and SZA. Her powerfully breathy vocals, intimate subject matter, sparse synths, woody electric pianos, and subtle beats sound like they were put together after midnight, with no one in the room but the ghosts of past loves for company. She doesn't wallow in sadness, but merely casts a spell that's hard to shake as the quiet songs float past, their spectral presence broken only by the occasional uptempo songs -- like the disco jam of "Disco Dicks 5000" and insistent midtempo groove of "Virtual Life" -- that sound like Todd is trying to break herself out of the enveloping melancholy. That may make it sound like the album is a bummer, but it's the opposite. The warmth of the arrangements and the smooth grace of the melodies make Acts of Love an easy record to cuddle up with. It's also an impressive work of auteurism, as Todd's mastery of the tools of her trade and her unwavering vision remain strong throughout. She's just as adept at spinning out wobbly electropop ballads ("Homegurl") as she is should-be hit singles ("Downtown"), and can strip away the beats and add strings on the moving ballad "That's All I'll Do" as easily as she can pump up the jams on "Lonely." It's a masterful display of low-key artistry delivered with a subtle touch, something that might be a surprise to anyone who has followed her music up to now, but it's a welcome break from the showiness of the past. Even if Todd's mercurial nature means that she never makes another record quite like this, the skill and emotional power she displays here make it enough to mention her work alongside the artists who inspired it.

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