Review ·

There's something to be said for a solid rhythm section. As the bassist of German electro-pop band Contriva, Masha Qrella has the know-how to lay down a sturdy foundation for some solid tunes. Predictably, the songs on her debut, 2004's Luck, and its follow-up, Unsolved Remained, rely on a steady rhythm and fairly uniform riffs. Luck, however, rarely builds on them, emphasizing pace while sacrificing opportunities to grab the listener's interest. On the bright side, Qrella clearly used that record as a building block for Unsolved Remained, which takes strides in the right direction with more varied song construction.


The acoustic rhythm guitar of "I Want You to Know" skips ever so slightly to lead off Luck, but it's just enough to let you know it's sequenced rather than live. That attention to detail is present throughout the record, which is populated with buzzing bass lines and bright synth drums. The sound is amazingly clear, and the acoustic guitar that dominates the record sounds like it's being played in your living room. Qrella's reacts to the completely instrumental Contriva by multi-tracking her gentle voice on nearly every song.

Although that electro-acoustic vibe is well-trod territory, it's still a powerful tool for beauty in the right hands. Luck is certainly a beautiful record, but beauty alone isn't enough to distinguish it from the crowd. Many of the songs are great for about thirty seconds; it's the last three minutes that are tough to justify, as many songs, including "You Won't Be There," simply aren't complex enough to last that long. The album's bland prettiness melts into an unmemorable blur that dissipates moments after you hit the stop button.

Qrella paid attention while she crafted Unsolved Remained. Although it shares a similar sound with its predecessor, Unsolved Remained is superior in nearly every aspect, from lyrics to music to songcraft. The title track opens the album with a gorgeous wash of acoustic guitars, this time aided by reverberating tones, strings and even a hint of controlled feedback. Instead of repeating the same arrangements, though, she throws in a distorted solo here, some crashing drums there.

If the glitchy beat of "Destination Vertical" had appeared on Luck, Qrella may have just left it at that, satisfied with creating an interesting beat. This time around, she builds the elements, adding a stab of electric guitar, a buzzing 303 bass line. At its midpoint the song devolves into a whirring wind of noise. When you're not sure what to expect, you're often pleasantly surprised, and Qrella makes good use of that device in round two.

To be fair, Qrella had a chance on Unsolved Resolved to build on her initial efforts and craft her sound further, an opportunity she does not squander. The best thing about Qrellas's work is that it's insanely easy to tell the difference between the two albums. Her songwriting and production is more advanced on Unsolved Remained, which means that Qrella is still growing as an artist. She's made a sizeable leap in just one year, giving her an even better footing for the next time around. As long as she keeps building up, she's in good shape.

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