‘dawn’ marks the start of something bolder for mxmtoon. The Oakland teen, who first built up a following as a YouTuber and goes only by Maia (keeping her surname private), has a knack for straight-to-the-hook, unfussy compositions. On her first home-recorded EP ‘plum blossom’ she sang with only a ukulele for company. Gradually, woozier elements have crept in around the edges – musically, she previously sat somewhere between Rex Orange County in super laid-back mode, and the pleasant soundtrack to a fruit cider advert, complete with swinging hammock.
Last year’s debut ‘the masquerade’ dug further into the mundane details of everyday life, and navigating the conundrums of growing up – often, it strained at the edges of suburbia, and looked out in search of new experiences. ‘my ted talk’ was particularly incisive, musing on the irony of writing love songs without yet knowing love. Though it established her voice clearly, ‘the masquerade’ also has certain melodic limitations – there’s only so many shake-ups and surprises that can arise from such minimal foundations. And now ‘dawn’ builds on that strength of voice further, and looks outwards – having encapsulated the highs and lows of being a teenager, this is the itch of trying to escape.
Lush opener ‘fever dream’ sets the scene for the entire release: “I want something more than more than restless mornings,” Maia sings in treated vocals that recall The Japanese House and Imogen Heap in equal measures. The wider world that ‘the masquerade’ merely hinted at is everywhere on ‘dawn’ – cars whizz down the highway like ants, and trains rattle towards new destinations, and as the landscapes flash past, she’s wary of forgetting them. ‘quiet motions’ breathes deeply in, nervous for the years to race by. “Soon it’s twenty years from now,” Maia sings, as if trying to memorise every last snapshot. ‘Almost Home’ meanwhile appears to address the past mxmtoon armed with a new, slightly world-weary knowledge.
Though that same ear for immediate melody is holding fast, ‘dawn’ is mxmtoon’s most substantial record yet; in large part, her observations are bolstered, and given a further depth by Luke Niccoli (Miya Folick, L Devine) on production duties. Maia has proven already that she’s mastered the art of holding back. ‘dawn’ shows the advantages of freewheeling instead.
Release date: April 23
Record label: Mxmtoon/AWAL