“Will I always be the words I wrote when I was 17?” mxmtoon – aka now-21-year-old singer-songwriter Maia – asks on the chiming, ‘90s alt-pop of ‘victim of nostalgia’. It’s a question that’s integral to the journey of her second album ‘rising’ – a record that reflects on growing up, getting through tough times and growing out of previous incarnations of yourself. As she finds by the end of it all, those teenage writings will always be part of her, but that doesn’t mean she can’t move on to new chapters of her personhood.
‘Rising’ presents an internal struggle laid out in songs that sparkle and shimmer deceptively. ‘Learn To Love You’ is buzzy and bubbly indie-pop that navigates the overwhelming sensation that “once in a while it feels like there’s too much to prove”. ‘Frown’, a 2022 sonic take on Lily Allen’s ‘Smile’ with very distant echoes of M83’s ‘Midnight City’, finds its protagonist singing: “The world’s got its worries / Life’s got us all in a hurry / Stuck on a loop overthinking all of our pain.”
Rarely does Maia match the apprehensive emotions in her songs to the instrumental mood she creates, and that’s entirely the point here. Written in the midst of the pandemic, her second album was her way of acknowledging the sadness and strife she was feeling, while also creating a way to get herself out of those emotions. Just as they were for their creator, these gems are mood-shifting uppers that are filled with empathy and electricity.
The disco-tinged dance party that shines across the record does take a pause occasionally, though. On ‘Florida’, melancholy drifting and guitar melodies akin to Bon Iver’s cabin compositions take the place of bouncy synths and strums as the musician shares the pain of losing her grandad to leukaemia. “Am I allowed to feel this mad?” she questions at one point, at others trying to figure things out in the face of inevitability: “There is nothing left to do / Someone tell me how to feel about it / The fate is written on the page / We can never outrun age.”
“A lot of these songs feel like survival music to me,” Maia told The Forty-Five in March and, in times of trouble, you could much, much worse than throw on ‘rising’, clear a space in your room and throw your own ‘sad disco’ to its effervescent tracks. “All grown up, 21 years old / Singing on her hairbrush microphone,” she narrates in a moment of wholesome escapism on that vibrant latter song. This record feels like it was built for following suit – a collection that gently encourages you to find light and joy again in the simplest, smallest ways.