Having released her debut album Rattle The Windows in 2010, surreal gossamer voiced poet, impressionistic word painter and offbeat yet straight to the heart L.A. singer/songwriter Malena Cadiz is years beyond being an emerging artist.
Yet since her latest folk/indie pop opus, the provocatively titled, Andrew Lappin-produced Hellbent & Moonbound, is her first in seven years, she’s surrounded by a swirl of colorful official comparisons as a means of reintroduction. As a storyteller, she’s (Joan) Didionesque. She’s a lady of the canyon waylaid at a suburban strip mall (Joni Mitchell reference). Her vocals have been colorfully described as everything from Karen Dalton meets Joanna Newsom to a mix between Norah Jones, Phoebe Bridgers and Cat Power.
Still, no comparison under the indie or classic pop/rock sun really prepares our hearts and ears for the way Malena (and that otherworldly, ethereal yet grounded voice!) seduces, then pierces the heart and slyly invites her way in via those dreamy-breezy melodies, which mostly caress in ballad form but from time-to-time pop with tasty rolling grooves. For those who prefer to listen more deeply than casually – and believe me, Malena’s witty turns of phrase and intricate blend of imagery (sometimes transcendent, sometimes pointedly mundane) and hard-won philosophy demand just that – there are a few important developments to note since her 2016 album Sunfair. She uprooted her life, moved cross country, became a mom, juggled odd jobs, and perhaps most significantly for the literary and introspective emotion that goes into Hellbent & Moonbound’s ten songs, spent the past few years going inward and finding solace in her creativity.
One could certainly have a grand old time spinning an essay of thousands of words quoting and psychoanalyzing snazzy couplets like “Leonardo, what were you doing on the Nile/Leonardo, who’d you love and what’d you spoil” (from the sultry swaying, art history centric opener “Museum Shoes”) or “You don’t have to tell me it was all a fever dream/Rolling and unfolding, coming open at the seams” (from the ambient and mystical, harp-laced “Getting By”). Or this whimsical motivational gem from the plucky, hypnotic title track “I’m hellbent and moonbound/I’m in too deep/Might as well double down.”
Each example (and there are scores of others) of Malena’s prowess as a wordsmith points to an overriding truth about her artistry. She’s an absolute master of artfully and purposefully juxtaposing the mundane with soul deep sacredness, using casual everyday observations as portals to transcendent epiphanies and the heavier truths of existence. In “The Real Thing,” for instance, she is clearly ready for the next phase of a loving partnership, eager to evolve with her mate – and, to make her symbolic point, she paints an image from her own life – her husband’s tattoo of a hand with the fingers crossed.”
Speaking of tattoos, check out this scene from “Whatever You Need,” a piece intended as a grown up love song that begins, “I waited out front while you picked up the weed at that all night tattoo place on East 17th.” That’s the incredible genius of a songwriter inviting us to walk with her as she slowly discovers what life intends to teach her – and what a journey it is. Malena saves her greatest mundane/profound contrast for the spirited, vibrantly rolling singalong anthem “Shatter,” which begins “You got that new haircut/You look like Princess Di/I’ll meet you at the mall, the Chinese restaurant side” – and leads to a chorus that should make everyone stop to think about what matters in life. She sings, “I want to know the heart of it/I wanna feel the truth/Even if it doesn’t matter/I want to look into its fiery eyes/Step right through to the other side/And see if I don’t shatter.”
Ponder this: Malena gets from A to B with only a verse in between! The importance of “Shatter” as one of the album’s core set pieces is revealed by the new, gritty, vintage style video for the song. Malena and director Sam Macon created it based on their shared love of what she calls “the beauty of decrepit things, the ruins of American capitalism like sad malls and abandoned shopping centers. Since the song is all about a search for truth, referencing a noir detective story (Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Long Goodbye’) feels right.” If you’re hellbent and moonbound in your quest to rediscover one of indie folk/rock’s most engaging voices (literal and figurative), get ye quick to that shuttered mall and see what Malena’s got in store.