One-time Hotel Café waitress Meiko has come a long way since self-releasing her debut album in 2007 (and re-releasing it via MySpace the following year). A singer/songwriter who routinely tells stories with her songs, her material tends to be very upbeat or entirely sad. Her new album, her third, is of the down-trodden variety. There are moments of happiness interspersed between the dark and worrisome feelings, but she clearly wanted to explore the bleaker side of human emotions on this record. The album, entitled Dear You, focuses on the feelings we all experience when a relationship is ending or has already ended. It’s called Dear You because some of the lyrics were actually taken from unsent letters she wrote to ex-boyfriends over the years. Aside from that, she relied on her memories of past relationships to inform the stories she sings so brilliantly on the album. In addition to focusing on break-ups, the album is Meiko’s first “electronica” record, to which end some longtime fans might be disappointed, since she’d always had an organic, live instrument sound in the past.
The album opens with the hypnotic “Bad Things,” which finds Meiko singing, “Good girls do bad things sometimes / But we get by with it.” It’s a down-tempo song which finds her voice digging a knife into the guy’s heart without a tinge of regret. Instead, Meiko plays the girl who loves “to play with fire,” who just wants to use the guy for sex, and she tells him so in the lyrics. “When I’m down I let you know / When I’m done I let you go,” she sings. Her voice is quite interesting, sometimes brimming with sexuality, sometimes sounding a bit evil, and occasionally sounding desperate. That she’s able to project so many things with just the sound of her voice is wonderful, that the lyrics are so spot on is the syrupy-sweet cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae, the ice cream, of course, being rich chocolate, anything but vanilla.
“I can barely speak up for me / Got too many fears / My mind is barely functioning,” she sings on the following track, “Lose It,” during which she sounds, in fact, like she’s verging on a nervous breakdown. She’s at that point where you’re right on the edge and you know if just one more bad thing happens to you then you’re headed for inpatient at a mental hospital. (Not that there’s anything wrong with getting help at a mental hospital, mind you. It’s just that nobody wants to end up there if they can avoid it and that’s what she’s trying to do.) She conveys that fragile feeling expertly, undoubtedly drawing on personal experience.
“I’m driving myself crazy,” she sings during “Be Mine,” which finds her obsessively longing for a guy, no more stable than she is on “Lose It.” “I need you / Need you / So come and see about me babe / Been waiting here all this time / For you to come and be mine / Be mine,” she sings during the chorus. That might not sound very menacing, but in the context of the song it’s stalkerific. “Sick and tired of being blue / When all I want is you / To come and give it to me like you wanna do,” goes part of one verse. You feel like you’re listening to the thoughts of a woman who’s hiding in the bushes, peering through the window as her ex kisses his new girlfriend. Right at that point where she’s about to decide to kill her or kill both of them. It’s a tad bit harrowing.
The album closes with one of its strongest tracks, “Go To Hell.” “I learned to stand tall when I was just a kid,” she sings, the song being from the perspective of someone who was verbally abused. (Whether or not this happened to Meiko, I don’t know, but it sounds genuine.) “You say that I will die and go to hell / Cause you know me so well,” goes the chorus. The first line sounds entirely sad, but when she sings “cause you know me so well” there’s an air of sarcasm and you get the feeling that she knows she’ll have the last laugh. To that end, she eventually sings that she’ll see the abuser at the gates of heaven where she’ll “be on the list,” implying that the abuser won’t. Since it starts off from the point of view of an abused child (or teenager), it might seem odd that she’d close the album with this, that it would have been better to open with it and go from her earliest experiences to her most recent. But once one has listened to the album a few times, it clicks: she’s revealing more and more about herself and her experiences as the album goes on, peeling back layers and layers, eventually reaching this point where she’s just a kid.
Some of Meiko’s fans might be turned off by Dear You’s depressing lyrics, but they’re not all “woe is me” and she never sounds like a cry baby. These are introspective songs from the perspective of a woman who’s been through some rewarding, serious relationships only to see them eventually crumble. Does she sound jaded? Yes, somewhat. But the songs are always interesting, telling stories that might not quite match our experiences but we can still relate to the raw emotions projected through them. Unless, of course, you married your high school crush and have never been through a break up.
As for going the electro route, well, if you hate all electronic music period then you’re inclined to dislike this, but these beats sound as organic as electro beats can get, really. If nobody told you they were electro beats, you probably wouldn’t even realize it at first; some of these beats sound like live percussion. Besides, if you’re a Meiko fan then chances are it’s her voice and her stories that first attracted you to her music and she sounds as incredible on Dear You as she’s ever sounded, meanwhile her storytelling has grown even more complex and evocative, something one would never have thought possible. In fact, it’s actually Meiko’s strongest album to date.