Toronto singer Maylee Todd’s sophomore album, Escapology, feels vintage in the best way possible.
There’s a definite disco flavour to Todd’s pop/soul material, and it’s welcome; the horn and strings on the opening track, “Baby’s Got It,” tell us all we need to know about her influences, and true to that era, she doesn’t over-sing. It also functions as a strong statement of self. Todd definitely has it; the album is well produced and she displays a knack for arranging and musicianship. She’s well known as a live performer on the local Toronto scene, but here we get a glimpse into her producer bag of tricks.
There are some ethereal harmonies, especially on the jazz waltz “Successive Mutations,” that retain the sweetness of her voice against stripped-down arrangements. “Clementine’s Nights” makes lovely use of some dreamy harp work (an unusual instrument for a contemporary album), and “I Tried” delivers rhythmic drama. It doesn’t quite reach the searing heights of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” which is a shame, as the sonic structure invites an obvious comparison; Todd’s greatest asset as a singer (her sugary sweetness) here provides a liability, as some darker vocal colouring would serve us a harsher story of heartache. It’s not that she doesn’t deliver vocally, rather that the song needs some emotion that is tricky to conjure in a studio setting. “Pinball Number Count,” a straight-up cover of the Pointer Sisters’ free-form jazz-funk tune from Sesame Street, similarly suffers from studio-itis. It’s the kind of quirky tune that Todd does well live, but in terms of the album? A reimagining of the tune Ã la Janelle MonÃ¡e’s “Many Moons” would have let us see more of her individuality and artistry at work.
The vintage quality of the album is definitely one of its strengths: the infectious “Hieroglyphics” is the first single, and its bubbly groove is a guaranteed mood-lifter easily matched by the mid-tempo groove on “First and Last.” Both as a singer and as a producer, Todd’s strength is juxtaposing vintage sounds with a contemporary feel.
Escapology is a fantastically feel-good album, perfect for summer and the feelings it brings. It also positions her as a blend of Soul Sister #1, tender balladeer and jazz baby, picking up where Jacksoul’s Haydain Neale left off. There’s no one else like her in Toronto, male or female, and the energy that can be felt on the album is even better experienced live.