Local Listens for the Lockdown: Best Wishes by MAITA
Written by Ned Tilbrook on April 24, 2020
This is the first in a series of weekly columns that KPSU will be running called Local Listens for the Lockdown in which we highlight some of the best new music from Portland bands to make your quarantine a little more bearable.
FFO: Feist, Big Thief, Bright Eyes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Soccer Mommy
On May 15th local indie-rockers MAITA, fronted by songwriter Maria Maita-Keppeler, release their debut full-length album Best Wishes on Kill Rock Stars: a beautiful debut, full of indie goodness with choppy riffs and heartfelt vocals. I had the chance to ask Maita-Keppeler a few questions and listen to the new album in its entirety, but if you can’t wait to hear it for yourself you can check out two singles, ‘A Beast’ and ‘Japanese Waitress’ below to give you a flavor.
Best Wishes opens with the single ‘A Beast’, starting with Maita-Keppeler gently singing poetic lyrics while a guitar chatters away quietly, nervously almost, in the background. Slowly, from these quiet beginnings, the song builds to a loud, emotive chorus where Maita-Keppeler sings that ‘I never could forget, but I’ll forgive like a dog.’ This is a quality present throughout the album: the ability to go from a gentle, reassuring tone to one of guttural urgency, from ethereal sounds to the visceral reality of crashing choruses, all while sweeping the listener along.
A striking example of Maita-Keppeler’s talent for writing lyrics comes from ‘Japanese Waitress’. The song stiches together snippets from the everyday experiences of a waitress, backed mostly by folky sounds, with a soaring, fuzzy guitar line coming to the fore after the chorus’s refrain: ‘I will pour the tea, I know they will pay me, I will pour the tea, Coz art is not free.’ Capturing the essence of the struggles of the artist with a day job in just a few words is indicative of a serious writing talent, but Maita-Keppeler has been practicing for a long time. ‘I started writing songs probably around third or fourth grade,’ she says, adding that family members told her she should learn to sing first! During middle and high school Maria spent her time learning to play guitar and ‘basking in the indie-folk of the early 2000s.’ This is an influence that shines through, and is indeed the base of many of the band’s songs, with loud, electric riffs entering on top of more folksy songs. Such a construction will be familiar to fans of New York’s Big Thief, with both bands also employing poetic, earnest lyrics.
The album’s second track, the confident, foot-tapping indie of ‘Someone’s Lost Their Wallet’ was the most challenging track on the album to record according to Maria: ‘It was difficult to arrange because I had all these pieces and didn’t know how they were going to fit together. I think I was writing with a band in mind before I knew how to write with a band in mind.’ The mixture of a fierce beat, shimmering indie guitars, and her own signature alluring lyrics certainly end up making a well-textured and catchy whole from the song originally intended for the band’s 2017 EP ‘Waterbearer’. An older song of Maita-Keppeler’s, it captures the ups and downs of a big night: ‘I wrote snippets of it in the final months of college, inspired by the weekend revelry that held so much importance for us at the time, and the ever-looming presence of mortality that never ceased to worm its way into my Saturday night.’
Those transitions in life is a theme that reoccurs throughout the album. Broken Down Boys, a stately, downtempo number, which examines our tendency to romanticize tragedy when younger, without acknowledging its real consequences. ‘Perfect Heart’, meanwhile, provides a foot-tapping surf-influenced track for the album with glittering sun-baked sounds and a catchy chorus making for a highly danceable song. It’s immediately followed by ‘Darling, Don’t Take Me When You’re Ready to Go’, a beautifully heavy and atmospheric track that make it feel as though Maita-Keppeler is whispering urgent wisdom in the ear of the listener.
Each track on MAITA’s remarkable debut is a little indie gem: each a little different from all the others, yet clearly originating from the same style, the same experiences. Led by vocals and lyrics that imbue each word with a meaning tantalizingly just on the edge of your reach and backed by instrumentation that moves seamlessly from gentle, atmospheric, and folky to insistent, loud, and aggressive, this is an album that becomes more rewarding with each listen. It is sure to be some of the finest music that emerges from Portland this year.
- Ned (Real Soon in Rose City)
Best Wishes is available on Kill Rock Stars May 15th