It’s nice when it becomes quite apparent that an artist is so enamored by the imaginative weight of their own music that rather than just delivering a collection of strong, decent songs that are good to listen to, they serve up a whole other dimension of stories, emotions, and characters to explore them with. That's essentially a description of a concept album, but with the long-awaited full-length debut from Portland’s Alexandra Savior, Belladonna of Sadness translates more effectively as photographs in an art book rather than a meticulous novel. Which is a good thing; it’s not to say that the latter is outside of her abilities -- far from it. The record opens with "Mirage," a perfect example of Savior's imagination, style, tone, and mood throughout. Lyrically focused on the alter-ego character of Anna-Marie Mirage -- a fiercely independent performer whose love for singing seems to have been blurred by a contempt and/or tolerance for the emotionally devoid capitalization of art: "I sing songs, about whatever the fuck they want. I’m so blue, Anna-Marie Mirage, painting my tear drops on" punches through buzzy, desert rock-esque guitars, glam-infused percussion, and darkly, romantic keys. While the album’s sound may certainly feel nostalgic, it’s never an obvious imitation, ultimately resulting in an homage to the vast plethora of Savior's influences. "Girlie" boasts languid percussion, resonant glockenspiels, and celestial keys that bring to mind something like "Highschool Lover" by Air. It also has pleasant surprises: the woozy, swampy "M.T.M.E. (Music to My Ears)" consists of galloping percussion, resonant organ keys, and reverberated guitar riffs that swim around her sultry vocals when all of a sudden, halfway through, she unexpectedly delivers a perfectly chilling, blood-curdling scream that gives way to a brilliantly sparse bridge section. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if she became one of the latest bearers of the neo-torch song alongside other visionary songwriters such as Chrysta Bell, Lykke Li, and Lana Del Rey. Such a comparison is accurately exemplified in album-closer "Mystery Girl," a case in point of a torch song in the 2010s with dusky undertones of decades past. As with the rest of the album, Savior's vocals purr with an inquisitive nature and bold recklessness. Her vocals and the song’s echoing psychedelic strings and guitars gradually mesh together into a wonderful cacophony of noise, building toward a magnificently executed crescendo for the album’s curtain call. With some of the album co-written with Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner, Savior's sound and imagination have been effectively realized and captured here in a magnetic collection of songs with an almost Lynch-ian/Coppola-esque cinematic feel to them. An impressive debut from a very promising songwriter, hopefully with more to come.
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AllMusic Review by Rob Wacey