Arizona native turned Los Angeles denizen Zella Day is a soulful, if fairy-like singer/songwriter who anoints her poetic, bohemian anthems with boombastic drops of indie electronica, folk, and bluesy, symphonic balladry. Day's full-length debut, 2015's Kicker, is a rootsy and engaging showcase for her pop theatricality, taking equal parts inspiration from Britney Spears and Florence + the Machine. With her dusty coo of a voice, and her Keira Knightley-at-Bonnaroo style, Day sometimes feels more like a fashion model-turned-singer -- not necessarily a bad thing. There's a fine tradition of hippie-esque models and actresses proving themselves adept at the art of pop songcraft, or at least singing catchy pop aperitifs. Jane Birkin, Marianne Faithfull, and Nico all fit the description and certainly come to mind while listening to Kicker. Of course, so do many of Day's similarly inclined contemporaries including Ellie Goulding, Lorde, and Lana Del Rey. Once again, not necessarily a bad thing, but the comparisons are evident. Partly, this is due to the production choices of Wally Gagel and Xandy Barry (aka Wax LTD.), who frame Day's voice within gigantic, Florence Welch-style kickdrum and snare beats, Teutonic synths, and flagrantly cinematic orchestral backdrops. Subsequently, tracks like the yearning "Jerome" and the icy "Ace of Hearts" both drip with an infectious, hooky energy and a nagging sense of deja vu. If there's a through-line with all these artists, from Birkin to Welch to Del Rey to Day, it's the lyrical allusions to pop iconography and the reappropriation of rock and R&B swagger by such fatalistic ingenues. Icons factor heavily in Day's music and cuts like "East of Eden," "The Outlaw Josey Wales," and "Sweet Ophelia" find her hanging her lyrical hooks on several well-known historical figures, both real and fictional. Elsewhere, Day borrows the operatic thrill of Kate Bush on "High" and recalls Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle," on the campy, hip-hop informed "Hypnotic." Ultimately, whether drawing upon icons of the past or present, Day remains the center of our attention on Kicker.
by Matt Collar
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