by Dylan Pennell (@dylan_pennell)
To love the music of Renata Zeiguer is to love the dexterous nature of her voice; equal parts sensuality, gruffness, exoticism, tenderness, and intimidation, it could be something of a wasted instrument were it in less capable hands. Lucky for listeners who have been following her burgeoning career, Zeiguer has always shown a herculean level of command of not only her unique voice but also the musical world she has fashioned through various demos and singles. Those early releases show an artist confident in not only her technical proficiency, but also the mechanics of songwriting itself. That must be why her debut album Old Ghost wreaks of the same self-styled confidence that artists usually cultivate come their third of fourth releases.
Having long been a student of jazz and classical music (and samba and the violin), Zeiguer manages to take the unpredictable zigs of those styles and zag them into fully formed pop-rock songs - emphasis on the “rock.” Over the course of the record, Zeiguer’s voice, a delicate cat-like purr communicates a myriad of emotions, at times in startling contrast to the music and the lyrics themselves. Though some might prefer their “Rock N’Roll” with a side of “Rock N’ Roll,” this eerie contrast brings into focus the emotionality of even the most visceral moments of the record. For instance, the chorus of opening track “Wayside” when Zeiguer intones over and over “I know it’s not true.” In the moment the guitars and drums practically splinter the song with their tension and release, but the lyrics, colliding with the brutality of the guitars, underlines the vulnerability inherent in even our darkest and most aggressive moments.
It’s fitting then that most of the record, replete with samba rhythms and flourishes of effervescent keys, shows the artist fighting back some encroaching personal darkness. Whether it’s imagining someone as a Gregor Samsa-like creature in “Bug” or the prom-ready pleading of “Follow Me Down,” both imagine a world where characters are stuck in an unnamed underworld and content to stay there. What darkness and despair doesn’t bleed into the lyrics peppers the sensuality of her voice in smoky rockers like “After All,” a song that almost recognizes the darkness inherent in cheerily singing “Paranoia dream/ Apple of my eye/ And it’s all in my head after all” and lightens the mood by simultaneously whipping itself into a go-go dancing surf tune.
With such a high contrast running through the record, it would be easy to blame Zeiguer for being something of an ego conservationist, attempting to somehow cut short her vulnerability by matching it with musical levity. Though the songs might feel poppy and akin to something like the eeriest cocktail party you’ve never attended, the music here highlights the bittersweet. While Zeiguer might sing of desperation and decomposition, she somehow manages to underline the romantic nature of such pain. Whether we hear that in Zeiguer’s gleeful performances (“Dreambone”) or in the humble yearning of her lyrics - on “Follow Me Down” she sweetly coos “I’d gladly bathe in your shadow” - Zeiguer never forgets to take the light with the dark, the rough with the soft. Though the album might end on its bleakest notes lyrically as she coolly sings of an unshakeable ghost, the album ends on an absolute stunner as she repeats “I feel like I’m never gonna lose” ad nauseum. Never say never, but Zeiguer’s debut is so assured, singular, and achingly beautiful that it would be no surprise if she managed to live up to her own declaration.