Acoustic guitar and glockenspiel, the definitive duo in affected cutesiness, are rarely a good sign. Though adored by some, this lo-fi folk aesthetic that Tempest In A Teacup enters with is, more often than not, maddeningly self-conscious and cloying. However, in Mal Blum’s case, it’s certainly put to good use. There are indeed points, as in “Altitude (This Party Sucks)” and “Valentine’s Day,” where her words descend into the dreaded quirkiness, but her conversational delivery and casual lyricism are typically more endearing than simpering.
Removed from the all-too-present slickness of indie rock and set in straightforward terms with a bare bones production style that offsets the swells of the choruses, all the modern 20-something grief is made more tangible. This goes for both the quicker and melodically brilliant tracks like “Side I’m On” and “Counting My Breaths,” as well as for the more distinctly bitter and slow “With Samson In Washington State.” In addition to the regular guitar, percussion and bass, there is a healthy accompaniment of cello, violin and piano. Accordion, too, is featured once in “The Difference,” adding a fitting jauntiness to what is a glum song lyrically.
Tempest In A Teacup is also, thankfully, succinct. All in all, it’s not much shorter than any other album, but it never dwells too long in a single rut. Even the lengthiest by far, “With Samson In Washington State,” which clocks in at six and a half minutes, doesn’t drag along. The themes may be dark, but the music is nothing if not bright.
In the end, it’s the album’s personality that seals the deal. What Blum’s voice lacks in range it more than makes up for in charisma, as you can almost hear her smile as she sings. The unassuming nature of her writing works together with that springtime breeziness of the arrangements to make a record that is, if not impressive, refreshing.