EP Review: KiNG MALA - 'Gemini'

Released in early December, Los Angeles based artist KiNG MALA leaves her listeners spellbound with her debut EP ‘GEMiNi’. An unapologetic and brave combination of lyrics and music, she sets the bar high with an eclectic mix of fearlessly beautiful and introspective tracks.

For some artists, the most challenging part of beginning their artistic journey is first establishing what makes them different from everyone else and deciphering how they are going to prove that to win over listeners. However, this is not the case for Areli Castro, also known as the alternative indie-pop goddess KiNG MALA. A breath of fresh air in the line of upcoming new artists, her artistic vision is a glorious celebration of femininity and honesty.

MALA’s – or “bad bitch” in Spanish – artistry resonates with confidence as she produces material of a similar quality to the likes of Billie Eilish, Banks, and Melanie Martinez. With her remarkable debut EP ‘GEMiNi’ now among us, the Hispanic born beauty is making a statement on the airwaves and living up to the significance of her artist name.

Upon first listen to the EP, it is impossible not to notice the velvety tone of MALA’s voice as the overarching feature of each song - there is simply no voice comparable to its prevailing and gorgeously gritty texture. Introducing an underlying gravelly bass line that hints towards the influence of Tame Impala’s iconic bass line in ‘The Less I Know The Better’, the first track on the EP ‘sugarblind’ is definitely an earworm. With a carefully crafted colour palette of sounds throughout the EP, the production quality of each song is sublime, and this shines through from the very beginning of the track list. “Why don’t you let me follow you to the garden of your mind,” sings KiNG MALA, as a haunting distorted vocal line an octave lower than hers, growls underneath MALA’s sultry tone. In terms of lyrical ingenuity, MALA is incredibly gifted at providing intriguing lyrical content that resonates with her listeners, leaving them pondering each line’s underlying meaning after every listen. The chimes of a xylophone sample against the childlike ‘la la la’ melody line throughout the chorus, create something irresistibly teasing about ‘sugarblind’. It is a rebellious yet menacingly fun number to open an EP.

Nothing says, ‘I’m a bad-ass b*tch’ like the second track on KiNG MALA’s EP ‘If I Try To Find You’. Opening with a vulnerable yet seductive and silky vocal line accompanied by what could be a synthesised mellotron, this song is a journey into the world of MALA’s perceptions of betrayal and anger as she sings, “Thought you were a storm that I could whether / I was blind babe, but now I see,”. One thing is for certain, whoever MALA wrote this sub-woofer and bass-driven track in retaliation to, is probably regretting crossing her path. Aligning seamlessly with her mutinous artistry, if there is any track on her release that represents her artistic ideologies the best, it is this. Contrast seems to be a prevalent factor in MALA’s material, presented in the structure of the song but also the vocal line, which is decorated marvellously with ethereal harmonies and occasionally doused in distortion to emphasise the grungy grit of her tone and her lyrical intentions. Everything is thought out to the most minute of details, and that is the sign of an artist that lives and breathes to create their own masterpieces.

Writing from an honest place is never easy; ‘Homebody’, the third track on the EP, demonstrates MALA’s introspective approach to writing best. A song that explores what most of us live under the burden of - the pressures of social expectations in the modern age – this ostensibly happy-go-lucky, piano-led, and upbeat number is not at all what it seems on the exterior. “My social anxiety / Has got me violently / Sippin’ on some Gin and Soda / Wishin’ it could all be over,” sings MALA, as she establishes the bittersweet irony of the song from the very beginning. It is an anthem for the introverts and all our socially awkward inner monologues. If in some strange world KiNG MALA and American Alternative Pop princess Bea Miller had a musical love child, ‘Homebody’ would be the result. Despite the satirical silver lining of the lyrics throughout the song, this is again a beautifully produced piece of art, with MALA’s ability to craft soothing chordal harmonies in her vocal line placed in the spotlight.

It seems like Lorde has some competition as MALA introduces the track ‘B4U’, which emanates with the same dark undertones of Lorde’s ‘Royals’ and ‘Ribs’. Whether she took direct inspiration from the New Zealand born singer-songwriter has not been confirmed, but the similarities are almost laughable. A common characteristic throughout the EP, the sub-woofer bass dominates and seems to control the track’s rhythm as MALA decorates the chorus with a glistening vocal track, submerged in harmonies of a celestial quality. Arguably lyrically the most positive and hopeful song on the track list, as MALA sings, “This heart was hollow / So hard to swallow / Before you,”, she continues to introduce another song of excellent production quality, thanks to Rob Auerbach and John Greenham. Having mastered songs for Billie Eilish, Sam Smith, Katy Perry, and Banks, MALA was not in short supply of a plethora of musical knowledge and expertise when it came to producing the EP with Auerbach, and it is extremely clear that she has used this to her advantage.

A sensual explosion of swung beats, a bass-driven piano line, and hints of sophisticated brass samples sprinkled into the mix, the penultimate track ‘Give Me’ gives every listener something to dig their teeth into. Establishing her artistic ideologies yet again MALA sings, “Some would call me cynical / A little criminal / I wanna be in control,” the focal point of this track is the frustration presented in her lyrical choices and then depicted in the music – a technique that a lot of artists struggle to convey effectively. It would not be inappropriate to pose this forward as the soundtrack for the 50 Shades of Grey franchise. The frustrating battle between falling in love and falling into the trap of submission is explored in delectable structural differences and harmonic variation throughout the song - MALA even offers chromatic elements in a piano-centred middle eight, just to tickle our taste buds further.

From the get-go, the grand finale of the EP ‘Funeral’ promises a dark end to the ‘GEMiNi’ journey, presented as not only the starkest song on the track-list but also the shortest.

Leaving an audience with a taste for more has never been easier concerning this insight into the insecurities and fragility of KiNG MALA’s mindset as she sings, “Transform all that I am / Sick of looking at / My current reflection,”. It is here, at the very climax of the EP, that MALA conveys the true meaning of the track-list’s title as the most vulnerable and defenceless side of her writing is placed in the limelight. With lyrics alluding to the discomfort of being and the hurt that comes with betrayal and deceit, a walking guitar line carries the song alongside a heavy kick drum beat that governs the rhythm. Verging on a cry for help, MALA’s pain has something of a bitter quality expressed throughout the song since this is not your typical sad ballad. Leaving one final lasting impression on its listeners, ‘Funeral’ is a fitting end to such a distinct and revolutionary EP of its kind, perfectly demonstrating the power of lyrical integrity and musical ingenuity especially in the hands of KiNG MALA.

Give 'Gemini' a listen here: https://open.spotify.com/album/0FlT3HWoxUWcVTZHV2oYfd?


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