Let’s Travel Through PORTALS
Jack Wilburn, head of makeup
Hello, my name is Jack, and I am an avid fan of Melanie Martinez. Melanie saw success early in her career after a strong run on “The Voice.” Shortly after, her single Carousel was picked up by 20th century Fox to promote the fourth season of “American Horror Story (Freak Show).” Her success skyrocketed, leading to two successful albums. On March 31st, 2023, she released her third and newest studio album, “PORTALS,” with which I am undeniably smitten.
To understand this album’s concept you must understand the musical world of Melanie. For her albums “Crybaby” and “K-12,” Melanie fabricated a character aptly named Crybaby through whom she could express artistic sentiments of discontent. Melanie herself says, “this album is the last part of Crybaby’s trilogy. I’d like to think all three of my albums stand out on their own, but I did plan for them to connect, showing Crybaby’s evolution. I wanted to introduce the character, move through the growing pains of childhood with them, then use school as an analogy for life and the systems of power here on earth our society continues to live under. Then with ‘PORTALS,’ I wanted to challenge my listeners’ perspective by essentially saying: ‘Just like us, after Crybaby’s vessel on earth has died, she lives on as a spirit in the cosmos.’” All of this means that the thesis of “PORTALS” is reincarnation: the idea that our spirit in this plain of reality will transcend and exist in different forms in perpetuity.
The opening track, “DEATH,” sets the tone both for this idea of reincarnation and for the album sonically. It begins slowly, with vocal lines and harmonies splitting in an eerie and electronic way backed by lax guitar strums. A thudding heartbeat establishes the song’s early percussion. At the midpoint of the song, the pace picks up and a drum line from “Nine Inch Nails” own drummer intensifies the track as Melanie repeats “I’m back from the dead.” This phrase both signifies the album’s concept and cheekily pokes at Melanie’s return to music after a three year hiatus. The song continues to pound through its later sections, transitioning with the sound of heavy breathing into “VOID,” Melanie’s personal favorite track.
The primary significance of “VOID” is that it is the first and only song Melanie has produced absolutely on her own, with no collaborators at all. While “VOID” is not my favorite track, its unique upbeat and indie sound is commendable, especially considering the work Melanie herself undertook in its production.
A highlight shortly following void is “FAERIE SOIREE.” Beginning with a light and upbeat percussion line, topped with an equally light and airy vocal performance, a mental picture of tiny sprites running with glinting wings and mushroom hats secured by a ribbon is not difficult to imagine. Melanie herself has a special connection to mystical and fantastical concepts, making this song fit neatly in her corpus of work. The last section of this track however, is an undeniable switch up. Melanie slows the pace immensely and delivers an acapella vocal performance featuring the similarly separated, electronic, echoed, and harmonizing vocal lines seen throughout many of the tracks in the album.
The slow pace continues into the introduction of “LIGHT SHOWER,” the most romantic track of the album. While most other tracks are pejorative against some oppressive body or are introspective, “LIGHT SHOWER” indicates a love interest. The slow pace endures with sweet guitar strums and lyrics that subvert the stereotypical sweetness of love. Rather than with softness, the romance is intensified with harsh claims like, “the tips of your teeth fit perfect in me.” The sweet melody is interrupted by a crunching and squishing sound that leads into the elegant harp strums which open “SPIDER WEB.”
Following “SPIDER WEB” is “LEECHES,” an unexpected favorite of mine. The melody here is sinister, unnerving, but still gently paced. This track seems most pejorative of all, calling those people who drain emotional energy leeches with no details lacking in the description of siphoning blood. Violins back the swelling vocal line, and a theremin rings most hauntingly through the lush orchestration. “BATTLE OF THE LARYNX” is the following track, and it restores lightness where the previous two tracks dampened and darkened the album’s color. This song has a bright, almost jovial electric guitar line backed by a poppy percussion kit.
The standout track “THE CONTORTIONIST” comes next. I never thought I would hear, much less enjoy the squelching cracks of bones as the primary percussion for a song. Thematically the song discusses “bending over backwards” for somebody else’s interest. The song has minimalistic instrumentation, with a plinking harp over an elastic bass and aforementioned crackling percussion. This song seems most quintessentially Melanie both in concept and execution. “MOON CYCLE” comes next; it is the shortest track. The song is imbued with feminine energy and transitions into the final stretch of the album.
“NYMPHOLOGY,” a bombastic and proud track celebrating the embracing of one’s inner “manic pixie dream girl” comes next. It features a nearly chanted chorus with a celebratory and triumphant vibe. Near the end of the song you will undoubtedly want to be shouting, “it’s NYMPHOLOGY not psychology” with Melanie. After this song is “EVIL,” another personal favorite. In “EVIL,” an electric guitar roars into focus, calling attention to Melanie’s vocals delivered in an enveloping low register. With an indie rock sound, “EVIL” continues the previous track’s energy with a similarly chanted chorus and high energy.
At last we have reached the album’s end with “WOMB,” a track which exists in thematic opposition to the opening track “DEATH.” Another guitar with soft and simple percussion backs Melanie in her transition into a grainy, synth-focused chorus. The track ends with an echoed recitation of the words “life is death is life is death” etc., which is identical to the beginning of “DEATH.” This means the album blends into itself, becoming a perpetual loop. As Melanie wanted to share the truths of reincarnation, she ensured that her album could itself reincarnate with each listen.