Album Review: Manella – Songs My Mother Never Taught Me

Manella perfectly captures the rollercoaster of emotion that follows a painful break up on her excellent debut LP

Montréal singer, composer and pianist Manella emerged earlier this year with her powerful debut single ‘Pain’, and has wasted no time following it up with the release of her similarly affecting debut album Songs My Mother Never Taught Me, a collection of tracks that explore themes like love and loss with a really human sense of rawness and compassion. Manella’s queer and feminist lens makes for a listening experience that will either feel eye-opening or relatable depending on your stance, but either way it serves as a devastatingly poignant and rewarding piece of art that takes you on a real journey with the artist.

The album opens with ‘Time’, a track that wastes no time establishing the gorgeous softness of Manella’s sound, marrying her lush vocals and piano in a way that feels effortless and seamless, providing the perfect backdrop for an emotional tale of healing and finding yourself following the breakdown of a relationship. ‘Pirates’ follows and has more of a lively, storytelling feel to it, with its guitars and strings proving impossible to not get washed away in as Manella continues to establish the effortlessly captivating nature of her writing. Even as things take a turn for the more fantastical with metaphors painting the artist and her lover as pirates taking on the world and eventually succumbing to its wrath, it’s hard not to find yourself hanging on the artist’s every word.

The fun is then immediately traded out for a sobering dose of reality on the album’s lead single ‘Pain’, as the artist details the more painful aspects of her breakout in a bleak and vulnerable display of honesty. The track’s on this album that are built around the artist’s voice and her piano are often the most impactful and show-stopping, and this is no exception, even as it builds into something all the more grandiose and expansive. Anxieties and the affect that modern media has on young people and the lasting implications are explored on ‘Young Girls’, interspersed with the overarching narrative of the track in a way that feels both creative and ultimately fairly disheartening and harrowing. “I guess that’s just truth of what a young girl is in a world where we’re meant to be silent” is a particularly cutting line here, before the track bursts into life in one of the most explosive and cathartic moments on the release.

The artist then breaks up the release with a poem titled ‘The Water’, in which the gentle sounds of water accompanies Manella’s captivating, bilingual prose, accosted by an imposing sense of dread that crawls its way into proceedings. You may think that some poetry would provide a bit of respite from an often sad and intense album, but in honesty that couldn’t be further from the truth.

This is immediately followed by ‘Undesirable’ which serves as one of the most optimistic and upbeat tracks on the LP, despite its name. With gorgeously crafted guitars meeting a narrative of rebuilding and shaping up to face the world and move on. This is by no means a happy track, but it has never felt like closure and peace has been closer throughout the album, with the rallying cry of “I’ll survive” ringing out among frenetic guitars, creating this sense of defiance and durability. The pianos are back on ‘Warmth’ on a track that continues this kind of resurgence that we are seeing from Manella, the sense of longing and regret is still there but there is this overwhelming sense of acceptance and that everything is going to be okay.

This is pretty much confirmed on ‘Falling Out of Love’, a truly satisfying full circle moment on the album where this sense of closure and equilibrium has been restored, set to a gorgeous backdrop of guitars and Manella’s ever captivating vocals. “I was so afraid for our memories to fade, but without them I’ve grown stronger” is the last line of the track and serves as the enduring message of the LP, and provides to be the emotional gut punch that the album truly deserved.

Songs My Mother Never Taught Me isn’t always the easiest and most uplifting listen, there are real moments of hardship, heartbreak, and times where all hope seems to be lost, but it serves as a really poignant reminder that things do get better. That you can weather the storm and come out stronger on the other side and persevere. The way that the tone gradually shifts on the album, with things progressively getting worse before getting better over time, holds a mirror to life and the ways that we process loss, making for a really engaging concept album that masterfully captures how we deal with these situations as people. A really stellar debut album from an artist who has articulated her pain and eventual resurgence with an impressive deftness and rawness.