Review: Poema – Pretty Speeches

poema-photo-by-austin-lord

Five years ago, it looked like Poema had it made. Elle and Shealeen Puckett, a young indie pop duo from Albuquerque, New Mexico, had signed to Tooth and Nail Records and released their charming debut EP Sing it Now. After a startlingly under-the-radar full length in 2012 (Remembering You), the sisters found themselves without a label and living in Nashville, ready to write a new chapter.

That new story, told through a five-song EP titled Pretty Speeches, is far and away the best collection of songs Poema have ever written.

You can buy Pretty Speeches on iTunes.

You can buy Pretty Speeches on iTunes.

While Sing it Now and Remembering You showed flashes of talent, the young duo also sounded malleable and uneasy. Pretty Speeches feels authentic, shedding the playful innocence of youth and acknowledging the complexity and confusion of adult relationships. “Coming of age” is probably an overstatement, but the sonic and tonal shifts are such that it’s hard to avoid the thought.

Equal parts Norah Jones, Copeland and a more mellow version of Haim, Poema seem to be developing an identity that suits them. There’s pop sensibility abounding on these five tracks, but there’s a cool, confident composure that reins things in. Lead track “Go Away” is striking, with it’s gentle twang and smooth vocal delivery. With the weighty opening line of, “You said, ‘When you find somebody new, don’t be so insecure’”, you can almost feel the innocence vanish.

On each track, the sisters appear playful with subtle harmonies and trade-offs. The opener’s chorus “If you’re gonna go away then go away” is simple in lyric but full of heart. Shealeen’s keyboards bounce alongside Ellie’s guitar on “Enough Messing Around”, creating a throwback 80’s pop vibe. The song may be simple, but its relaxed groove is enticing.

The eerie ambience of “Get to Me” is a page straight out of Copeland’s book, but feels fresh when paired with a hint of country. On Pretty Speeches, you can feel Nashville’s impressions on the duo spill out right alongside their indie rock tendencies. The resulting mix wouldn’t sound out of place in a smoky bar, yet feels custom made sunny summer afternoons. These pairings of influence aren’t easy to pull off, yet Poema seems completely at ease.

The high-water mark comes in the form of “Forget You in LA”, a darkly tinged track driven by a playful bass line and a marvelous vocal work from Ellie and Shealeen. A defiant song about forgetting past pain, the track is ominous as the cutting lyrics speak on behalf of two individuals who have grown immensely since the simple days of Sing it Now.

Maybe it’s not so surprising that it took a disappearing record deal and leaving home for the Puckett sisters to come into their own. Pretty Speeches is an indie release in every sense of the word while still feeling as complete and honest as anything the band has released thus far. Here’s hoping these five songs lead to plenty more. Poema have found their voice.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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