Sometimes you find that, as cliché as it may be, the age-old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ really does ring true. That’s exactly what happened to me when I first came across Adam Melchor’s debut album, Melchor Lullaby Hotline Vol. 1. Now, straight off the bat we have to acknowledge some big issues. The first: this name is terrible. I always get a little bit anxious whenever an artist releases a work with the title ‘Volume One’ or something of the ilk, because it feels like there must be a part two on the way. When that seemingly inevitably fails to turn up, often because the artist changes track or wants a wholly new image for a new era, volume one ends up being sat there, an unnecessary addendum to an otherwise decently titled release. The second: the garish 2006 WordArt-like title on this cover is frankly horrific, and I’d bet that it’s put a fair few people off trying Melchor’s album. Which is a crying shame, because honestly, it’s great.
The opening track, a brief ‘intro’ to the album lasting only 25 seconds almost has a hint of Queen in their Seaside Rendezvous era. It may be a spoken word piece, but there’s a certain jauntiness to this introduction to Melchor’s world that feels ever so slightly reminiscent of the British group. Second track Moon in the Morning feels more in line with standard singer-songwriter fare, but Melchor pulls it off with aplomb, his heart firmly on his sleeve as he crafts something that feels both innately relatable but also sublimely intimate. Whereas songs from Ed Sheeran and the ilk feel deliberately crafted to be as open as possible to the interpretation that you, yes, you, could be the girl he’s singing to, Melchor’s songs feel grounded and genuine, even as his vocals drift off into a dream world.
The first few tracks of the album continue in this vein, borrowing from the indie singer-songwriter songbook (although rather effectively), but it’s at the fifth track, Start Forgetting Death, that the album really hits its stride. My song of the year 2021, Start Forgetting Death, is a brilliant ode to how being with that someone special can make you forget all of the bad things going on – even if just for a minute. Melchor never makes any pretence that this person has solved all of his problems, but instead suggests that they provide a little oasis at times, where he can find peace and respite from the underlying sense of dread that we could, at any moment, and in any number of ways, just cease to exist. The song starts gently before crescendoing into this triumphant, French riviera-esque waltz that swells around you and completely wraps you up in its melodies. Truly, a brilliant song, and undoubtedly the highlight of the album.
In the wake of the grandiose Start Forgetting Death comes the genuinely funny i’m not okay, wherein Melchor really does his best to convince us that, in his own words, he’s ‘not o-fucking-kay-ay’. It’s the kind of lyrical interjection that takes you off guard in an otherwise rather earnest song, but one that feels completely rewarding and funny. Lateral Move is a great companion to the largesse of Start Forgetting Death, an easy-going, but no less grand, swinging bit of folk that sees Melchor’s voice at its prettiest.
The album’s penultimate song, itsjustmyheart (voice memo) is a great showcase of Melchor’s strengths as a songwriter, marrying the universal emotions that come with heartache with the detail that helps his songs feel so true. The opening line, ‘when the tree fell on your car, and made your windshield fall apart, you called me and I always wondered why’ taps into the same specificity as Taylor Swift’s ‘dancin’ ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light’. Lines like these make these relationships and experiences feel palpable and lived in, meaning that when Melchor ends with lines like ‘it’s your natural tendency to hit me up when you’re in need, but I think I might need it all to stop‘, it just hits that much harder. Throughout his album, Melchor ensures that his relationship feels tangible, giving heft to his romantic odes and requests for some kind of peace in the wake of the break up, and making for an album that stands out as one of the best releases of 2021.