Though Boston-bred singer-songwriter Mieka Pauley swears that she’s never tried to kill a man or steal a husband, the songs on her new album The Science of Making Choices might make you think otherwise. What jumps out immediately on Pauley’s latest offering is her voice: a bluesy, weather-beaten croon that demands attention without being overly affected. She can go from a howl to a whisper in seconds, and lines that might seem hackneyed coming from other singers sound natural and convincing in her hands. When Pauley sings “I wanna wreck your home / I wanna get your husband alone,” you don’t think twice about her intentions. Stripped-down songs like “Marked Man” showcase her ability to project equally intense emotions with little more accompaniment than a single beating bass drum. Yet, Pauley’s music is not all about lust and revenge. Those emotional extremes are balanced out with a wounded tenderness on tracks like “Never Fuck a Woman You Don’t Love” and “He’ll Never Quite Love Me Enough” that display the full range of her songwriting.
While Pauley’s voice is the centerpiece of the album, the strengths of The Science of Making Choices do not end there. Organic-sounding arrangements courtesy of producer Geoff Stanfield (Firehorse, Sun Kil Moon) support Pauley’s vocals and fully flesh out her compositions. Blunt drums thump and thud throughout the album, echoing the world-weary aesthetic of Pauley’s voice. Chains jangle, glass breaks, and keys rattle, providing eerie background percussion. Even when electronic sounds are used, they sound less like synthesizers than the fuzzed-out whistling of wind in telephone wires. What ultimately works so well about the organic production of Pauley’s album is the way in which it mirrors her lyrical descriptions of the natural world as both oppressive and beautiful. She laments that she can “wake up the next day and the sun is too bright,” and that “our branches may reach up to heaven / but our roots dig where they can.” In Pauley’s songs, the outside world can be painful and harsh, but it is also a thing of wonder. Such is Pauley’s own voice: a powerful force that can express feelings from rage to desperation, all of which coexist compellingly on The Science of Making Choices.
The Science of Making Choices is out today, June 26. Purchase it online from Mieka Pauley’s Bandcamp page.