Working under the moniker Ada Lea, Montreal-based songwriter Alexandra Levy released a strong debut album with 2019's What We Say in Private. That album collected snapshots of social anxiety, breakup fallout, and harsh personal changes in a series of obscured snapshots, arranging Levy's watery reflections in intriguing indie songs that took chances with unexpected electronic sounds. The album created a distinctive atmosphere of distant emotions and tumultuous sounds, but second album One Hand on the Steering Wheel the Other Sewing a Garden removes some of the layers of obscurity, offering a direct, often-autobiographical perspective that was only hinted at before. Stunning opening track "Damn" introduces a new level of storytelling, with Levy laying out a vivid depiction of a New Year's Eve party and the variety of complex feelings it brought up, positioning herself as an exhausted observer wading through chaos and a lack of direction. The frustration is palpable, and even though the song is dark, its level of raw expression is exhilarating. The album moves between mellow rock-adjacent tunes like "Damn" or "Oranges" and tracks that experiment with electronics and production. "Can't Stop Me from Dying" implements jarring Auto-Tuned vocals and a cold synth pop instrumental, while "My Love for You Is Real" begins as fairly straightforward singer/songwriter fare, but soon becomes enveloped by jagged synth arpeggios and waves of distortion. There are also traces of the sad-hearted folk style that made up much of What We Say in Private, but Levy uses stripped-down acoustic tracks like "Saltspring" to emphasize the new, almost diary-like quality that defines much of the album. Sacrificing none of the sonic character of her previous work, Ada Lea makes tremendous moves forward artistically with One Hand on the Steering Wheel, moving from a more impressionistic writing style into one that paints a vulnerable, melancholic picture in stark detail. It's a rare kind of unobstructed window into a songwriter's world, but the magic of One Hand on the Steering Wheel is how Levy somehow manages to speak volumes without giving too much away.
One Hand on the Steering Wheel the Other Sewing a Garden Review
by Fred Thomas