Mae Powell

Both Ways Brighter

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Both Ways Brighter Review

by Marcy Donelson

Inspired by the amiable, contemplative style of Frankie Cosmos' Greta Kline as well as finding a collaborative network of musician friends while away at college, San Diego native Mae Powell was studying broadcasting and audio production at San Francisco State University when she first began writing her own songs. Recorded during sessions dating back to 2018 and lasting into the 2020 pandemic, her debut album traverses topics from affection and ambition to relationship anxiety and political activism on a set that never loses touch with its sense of optimism. Entitled Both Ways Brighter -- a reference to how daylight increases in both the morning and evening during spring -- it opens with "Light Beam," a cheerful ditty that starts with strummed acoustic guitar, staccato keys, and handclaps before expanding into full band instrumentation. The song also introduces Powell's warm, sunny vocal delivery and jazzy, lilting melodic approach, which includes a tendency to bend notes à la Billie Holiday while adhering closely to indie pop canon. Dreamy delay and island-evoking lap steel are other frequent contributors to the debut and both are conspicuous on "Soon," a romantic ballad, and on the aptly titled "Weird Dreams." A trippy, lounge-leaning entry, the latter track implies humidity and a dreamlike state with its layered vocals and whimsical, vibes- and strings-embellished orchestrations. On Both Ways Brighter, even the hip-hop-injected "Catalyst" and ranting "Fuck I.C.E." are uplifted by soft timbres, bright melodies, and compassion ("We can't fight hate with hate/It'll only make it grow"), an intent seemingly underscored by penultimate track "Between a Pillow and a Soft Space." The album has its share of earworms, too, including the less-stylized "Scratch n Sniff," which opts for hooky, '60s-inflected harmony vocal pop.

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