Lo Kloza was first introduced to me a few years back with the head-turning sound of her eponymous 2012 EP, Lo Kloza. Combining the vocal powerhouse of Sara Bareilles and the compositional know-how of No Doubt and Katy Perry, Lo Kloza scored big with a packed release and an ongoing procession of ardent fans. Kloza learned several important lessons from that release, including the use of said music to push her development into different genres and influential styles.
The one thing I always liked about Kloza is that she never approached her project with the frivolous concern of being part of local rock royalty. With a style that promotes soul, R&B and pop-flavored composition, Kloza cared more about finding a way to soar into her future than she did about fitting in. In a scene filled with bands that second guess out of a fear of getting the “thumbs down” from self-imposed Lord Fauntleroy’s, she gladly embraced her pop idols and transferred that enthusiasm to her own special craft.
Another lesson learned is the important action of working with a producer that emulates and builds on the true vision of an artist. Lo Kloza was a very good production that featured several good songs, but I always felt that she was trying to find her way through the tough roadblocks of communication with her choice of production team.
Those roadblocks are gone on her new EP, Phoenix. Featuring several strong songs that explore commercial pop and a bit of new country, Kloza flies high into a succinct atmosphere of original and catchy songwriting. Lo tells us on her website, “Phoenix is me, the real me. It’s honest. I wasn’t writing to fit a certain sound; I was writing off of what I felt, and wherever that took me. I experimented with more rock melodies this time around, and the product is more than I could have hoped. I cannot wait to share this with everyone!”
This time around, Kloza opted for the production and co-writing guidance of Gordon Brown and John Harvey. Brown is the right choice for many reasons, but the most important is that he acts as psychological catalyst, nurturing the artist instead of dictating terms. That style creates an enthusiasm and confidence that explodes onto a record. John Harvey is best known for his four-string work with artists such as California’s own Second Serenade and new country princess Jessie James and co-wrote most of this interesting record with Kloza.
Phoenix feels like rebellious joy. Gone are the trepidations of doubt and holding back. In the wake of those frustrating issues are the jubilant sounds of a singer experiencing artistic freedom for the first time in quite a while, and you can hear it in each song she rules on. The production Kung Fu of Brown/Harvey is strong and unfettered. Electric guitars growl on top of keys, bass and drums in an organically hewn construction that comes together like the perfect storm for each and every song on the disc.
But this is so much more than just a pop record. Phoenix explores the light at the end of the tunnel. The story of coming into your own and realizing that this is the right time and the right place for the rest of your life. Phoenix enhances the rising up into something new and good. I’ve taken a few swipes to bring you highlights of this celebratory disc.
The first song that stuck out is the raw, rock and roll voracity of “Paranoid.” Kloza’s voice swerves into Nashville’s “new country” genre as she burns with all the sizzling moxie of a Kacey Musgraves. Guitars chuck out rhythmic, muffled chord barrages as bass and drum work pound the unhinged message of neurotic angst. Kloza is a pitch master, rising into mezzo soprano stratospheres before dropping into the sultry, contralto range of Amy Winehouse.
The choruses are Top 40 addictive, but the best part of this song is the surprise bridge that kicks in at 1:45. Guitars spin complex loops of tube-blazing riffage as bass drum guidance pounds straight through the heart. As the middle-eight begins to build to its fever pitch, you can hear Kloza seething into the piece. At 2:01, the culmination of Kloza’s release comes with a raw and savagely guttural scream. “Paranoid” is a fiery tune that spares no expense when building intimate, lyrical confession on a granite foundation of songwriting continuity.
Another surefire gem is “Mallory.” “Mallory” has that Golden Eighties vibe made famous by artists like Pat Benatar and Rindy Ross from Quarterflash. Thick snare hits pop as melodic guitars and synthed-out keys float through a plethora of catchy passages. When the song kicks in for the second verse, you can hear the compositional elevator move up to the next furious floor. Quirky, poppy and filled with unencumbered rock and roll expression, “Mallory” has Kloza beaming her elation through the speakers as she powers this attention-grabbing single straight into our hearts.
“Empty-Handed” is an intricate and well-written song that exits onto that long-haul Nash Vegas blacktop. Here, as on most of the record, Kloza demonstrates a mature and satisfying understanding of the message she delivers. Bursting with emotional empathy and tough earned love for new beginnings, Kloza assures the listener that she’s experienced their pain, and it’s not the end of the world. “Let’s not forget I’ve been there before, I’ve walked right through that same dark door, yeah I’ve used every damn broken excuse.” The bridges on “Empty-Handed” are a strong pathway to some of the disc’s best choruses, and everything builds into a rhythmic, melodic movement of memorable music. The ending percussive and piano flourishes remind me of “All That Heaven Will Allow” from Springsteen’s Tunnel Of Love.
Another highlight is the song “Monsters.” “Monsters” spins an Adele-like vibe on this story of survival. But Kloza goes even farther, exorcising personal demons, extinguishing capitulation in favor of “putting up a fight” for one’s future. Pristine pianos chime the introduction like a music box as Kloza lays her smoky vocal across the anthemic soundscape. Organs seep through, mixing with pianos and percussive elements before drums roll this into the second verse. Brown and Harvey are masters of the build, using tempo like a throttled funny car, bringing it down before flooring it into the catchiest of choruses. Dynamically stated, “Monsters” reveals a scary talent by all involved.
Other notables are the disc namesake, “Phoenix.” “Phoenix” is the hopeful hit that Kloza has been searching for, and it’s a song that is in that ballpark. At first, you think this is some kind of ode to Bon Jovi, as the kick in is a brazen, crunching heap of guitar rock supremacy. Kloza and crew know what they are doing, and quickly spin the song into a throbbing, accent-filled bar chord blitzkrieg that dances joyously with the pop sensibilities of that Perry girl. The modulation change at 2:00 is a smart and savvy addition, taking a song with a great level of compositional buoyancy and lifting it even further into the feverish zone of a religious experience. Think Miranda Lambert meets Carly Rae Jepsen and you’re there. Now THAT’S a production.
Phoenix is a fun-filled celebration that champions the breaking free from the past, and knowing that the future is an open playing field of promise for both the writer and the fans that will be lining up to watch this emotional coming of age unfold live.
For more information on Lo Kloza and Phoenix, head over to lokloza.com.