Push play on the smoldering opening track “Oblivious,” and that very first gnarled squelch of feedback says it all: this is not the same Jessica Lea Mayfield. For years, the Ohio singer-songwriter trucked in the alt-country circles, crafting intriguing and melancholy songs about complex (i.e. bad) relationships and heartsick regret with an unadorned beauty. Now, Mayfield is still singing about love, restless yearning and jealousy on her latest album, Make My Head Sing…, but with a little less twang and a newfound visceral, blood on the lips fury.
Make My Head Sing… is Mayfield’s first without The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach at the helm as producer. Instead, she hunkered down with produer, bassist, and husband Jesse Newport and drummer Matt Martin in a Nashville studio, trimmed the excess, and unleashed something explosive and moving. It’s jarring how heavy and sharp-edged this record is — full of dreamy flanged guitars and an unrelenting crunch of distortion that perfectly builds in stark contrast to Mayfield’s plaintive, lovely voice.
Yet Mayfield makes full use of that throttling post-punk-meets-grunge-meets-metal backdrop. In knife-twisting lines like “I’m insane, I wanna love you / You gonna find this out!,” (on the standout single “I Wanna Love You”) or “You’ve got a stranglehold on my heart,” (on “Seein* Starz”), she reveals a seething side that’s perhaps been there all along. It’s the kind of bold musical shift that makes this Mayfield’s most idiosyncratic album, and her best yet.