Appearing less than a year after the Technicolor panoply of 2012's Island Fire, Gemma Ray's fifth LP, Down Baby Down, takes a more thematic approach, offering up a succinct ten-song cycle meant to play out as a self-declared fantasy soundtrack. Mixing cinematic instrumental tracks and moody femme-fatale ballads, Ray channels her love of retro, '60s-inspired kitsch into a bewitching set that feels a bit like Joe Meek producing Nancy Sinatra. The low, midnight surf tones of opener "The Low Rising" mingle with sultry wordless vocal sections and brushed drums, setting the album's overall film noir tone. "Gozo Theme" explores a richer sonic palette with misty harpsichord synth tones, Farfisa organs, and coquettishly whispered French phrases appearing amid Ray's dense vocal stacks. The lyrical themes are minimal, with the torchy waltz "Say You Love Me" providing the bulk of the album's lyrics, which are repeated again over the sparse creep of "The Letter" and the minor-key rockabilly chug of "Baby Goes Bad." While Down Baby Down is loosely conceptual, its narrative is merely a suggestion based on the tone and feel of the songs, and what few lyrics there are feel more like part of the overall arrangement than any sort of storytelling. Ray has proven herself to be a quality songwriter many times over throughout her four prior albums, and if this set feels a bit like a collection of slightly indulgent, Nick Cave-ian outcasts, it still hangs together quite well as an album and shifts some of the focus to her formidable skills as an arranger.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger