First Impressions: Mechanical Sweetness by Alyssa Gengos

It’s one part retro and two parts cool—that, as I tweeted yesterday, describes this, the second full-length outing from Alyssa Gengos, who previously went by the stage moniker of Kythira. As on her earlier works, which are worth seeking out, strummed guitars intermix with bass, drums and airy synths, while her vocals glide high across the soundscape like wispy cirrus clouds one moment and the fuller cumulus variety the next. For those who prefer shorthand comparisons, as unfair as they may be, it’s somewhat akin to how Bananarama would have sounded if Juliana Hatfield fronted them and/or if the Yearning’s Maddie Dobie joined forces with the School

The influences span further back than the 1980s, however, as she channels everyone from the Shangri-Las to Liz Phair, not to mention the Beatles and Todd Rundgren. It’s old-school pop filtered through new-school ears, similar to such contemporaries as Abby Huston and Babygirl. There’s a lot to like. One of my favorite songs is “Gothenburg English,” about how a Scandinavian sojourn she undertook helped her come to grips with the end of a long-term relationship. (The video, as all her recent videos, was shot on a Canon Hi-8 camcorder that she purchased off of eBay.)

Gengos, it should be noted, plays all the instruments herself save drums, which were laid down after the fact by Sam Setzer (and based on her digital blueprint). From what I’ve read, she relocated from New York City back to suburban L.A. (and in with her mom) early in the pandemic. Though accustomed to solitude, as many suburban kids are, the alone time led her to take stock of her life—and to turn lessons learned into songs. As she says in a press release, “It was a lot of working through my feelings and seeing what I’ve done wrong over the past couple years and what I can learn from and what I let happen to me that I shouldn’t have let happen to me.”

Another highlight is the title track, which delves into the insecurities that are part and parcel of romance circa the modern age. Years long ago, most relationships sprung from day-to-day life, not social media and dating apps. You met someone at school or work, or through friends, hit it off and headed out, either together or in a group. There was no swiping right or left, carefully composed texts or waiting games. 

Though far less dramatic, the spoken interlude conjures—for me, at least—“Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las as well as similar monologues from such classic sides as “Deadman’s Curve”; add on those angelic harmonies and…yeah, it’s a killer track. That Gengos has integrated so many influences into a coherent whole makes the song—and album—a joy to listen to. You’ll find similar charms in the other tracks, too. It’s bedroom pop at its finest.

Which is all to say, give it a go.

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