It’s easy to reduce music to its overlying theme: romantic, empowering, heartbreaking. But Paola Bennet breaks the mold in her sophomore EP, Maybe The Light. Writing with the aim of honesty, Paola is a singer/songwriter with a repetoire of songs that range from shimmering ode to haunting ballad to raw, gutsy catharsis. As a reformed “sad girl,” she is too familiar with getting typecast, stylistically and emotionally. She reflects on this typecast,
After picking up the label when I was playing live often, I saw how quickly things got oversimplified. Not just the idea that all I write are sad songs, but also that a song can only be about one thing, one mood—when of course, real life is so much richer. Every song on Maybe The Light is about the overspill, the overlap of emotions that occur even in one experience.
Maybe The Light is a collaboration with producer Adam Tilzer, who has been sound engineer to artists including Valerie June, Keith Richards, and Norah Jones. Stalled in the demo stage by the COVID-19 pandemic, Paola and Adam finished recording in safe, isolated stretches throughout 2020. Sonically, Maybe The Light builds on the moody tones of Paola’s debut, The Shoebox EP (2016) and breaks into exciting new territory. Equally influenced by neo-folk artists such as Laura Marling and Margaret Glaspy as well as modern rockers like Phoebe Bridgers and Liza Anne, the EP moves between anguished folk-rock anthems and dreamy ballads, exploring nuance that is rarely allowed in (on average) four-minute tracks.
The opening track, “My Mother Says,” is a touching introduction to the multi-genre work. It unveils the shame that comes from being vulnerable with a loved one about mental health. The production moves between dreamy electric folk and urgent distorted rock, illustrating the downswing of depressive episodes and the upswing of anxiety.
“Anthea” is about two friends: one who never settles and one who is a safe harbor. Set against gentle guitar acoustics, the lyrics first depict the joy of their reunion. The song has a more earthy and folky production than the previous track that blends harmoniously with ethereal synths and strings. The lyrics begin to explore a more intimate territory as they slide into underlying questions that have never been answered before. The inquisitive lyrics, relayed in a soft-spoken tone with soaring backing vocals, question who are these friends to each other after so long, what are they hiding, and what do they really want?
A more melancholic approach is taken in “In This Body,” which focuses on Paola’s experience with chronic illness. It spotlights the sense of being a stranger in your own body, and the self-doubt that arises from people questioning your very real pain. A more stripped-down production pairs gliding guitar chords with haunting vocals. A subtle backbeat kicks in as the chorus begins with the acknowledgment of not feeling at home in your own body. The electric, kick-driven production complements the relived experiences and the alienating emotions before taking over in the howling, caustic outro.
“Astronaut” pulls listeners back down into a more peaceful state – a lullaby dreamscape is painted with the light soundscape. Inspired by real-life astronauts and the loved ones they leave behind, this track is about loving across great distances. Wistful vocals carry through the waltz-like verses into the choruses, layered with cosmic electric guitar and synths. Echoes swirl around the production, creating an enveloping feeling behind the vocal vibratos. And despite all of the grandeur behind the initial message, Paola ends up choosing real connection in the final lyrics.
The final track offers the hopeful, nervy title of the EP in its lyrics. “7:23am” captures the fragile stillness of a morning alone with a new lover. Whispery vocals highlight the track’s intimacy, underlined by tastefully sparse folk production and the choice of lo-fi microphones. The song moves between uncertainty and nervousness for what is to come and the early morning peacefulness that can be embraced now. There’s an unspoken comfort in accepting the risks of intimacy. It’s a feeling that is reflected in the quiet tones and pleasantly hushed melodies. And the in-between of half-awakened musings generates the title in “If we’re quiet, maybe the light will stay like this.”
Maybe The Light is an intimate exploration of the complexities of emotions. Paola draws on the multitude of experiences she has lived through and the mixed emotions that have resulted from those to paint embracing harmonies that don’t fall within one neat category. Much like the complex emotions explored in each track, the productions also don’t fall within one neat category. Through this EP, listeners can witness Paola rejecting of her former “sad girl” typecast as she brings the richness and fullness of life into her music.