Lady Lazarus, aka Melissa Sweat, opens her third album with a long list of things she believes in. Miracles, the title of the album and song, are highest on the list, but maybe the most resonant entry is the declaration “I believe in you” followed by the question “Do you believe in me, too?”.
Miracles plays out like a reward for sticking through her often beautiful, sometimes challenging musical career. Lady Laz has never been a pop singer, but she’s teased a deeply embedded desire for pop elements on songs like “Wonder, Inc.” from her last album, All My Love in Half Light.
It’s this first song on Miracles that tips off a change apparent throughout the collection: increased production value, evident in the more linear songwriting, fuller arrangements that include orchestration and percussion, and an overall attention to beauty and accessibility. Where some acts lose their homespun qualities to the detriment of their project, increased fidelity and focus are a revelation for Lady Lazarus, resulting in the best album of her short career.
Sweat’s trademark piano riffs repeat, slowing and speeding up at times, as her vocals struggle to keep up or rattle on past the end of the measures, like a piano balladeer version of Stephen Malkmus (minus the absurdity). This phenomenon adds tension to these songs. It makes moments like the lead verse of “Train Song” or the entirety of the stunning, hopeful “All Good Things” satisfy like a cool glass of water on a hot day. On the latter, Sweat sings, “It took a while/ It took half our lives,” and she could be speaking of finding love, about her artistic success, or just about any of the positives she has stumbled upon or worked her way toward. The sentiment is simple and universal, but that doesn’t make it trite. Rather, it’s essential in understanding her newfound happiness, and in recognizing how far we have come ourselves.
Maybe knowing Sweat’s story and seeing her musical arc makes the lyrics more meaningful, but the sonic and melodic leaps on Miracles are vivid and stunning themselves. One of the pleasures of listening to music, of following musicians, is watching them improve and succeed, watching them take risks and reap the creative rewards. It’s one of life’s many miracles, and it’s nice to hear an album that celebrates them.
Essential Tracks: “Miracles”, “Train Song”, and “All Good Things”