Pennsylvania’s Pleb Mahogany has built a seven years long and counting career out of distinctive originality and a willingness to pursue daring ends. He backs up his musical chops with a live show incorporating elements of comedy and dance into his performances. It has attracted Mahogany a bevy of fans over the course of his still burgeoning career. Cecily Strong is the third studio release under the Pleb Mahogany banner following on the heels of a single “Spring 13” and a four song EP entitled Mountains and Oceans. His musical and theatrical skills, particularly his gift for layering memorable melodies into electronic pop confections, have secured him a niche in the indie music world and this new two track EP adds to his growing renown.
The title song is interesting for many reasons. One of its most interesting aspects is the gradual sweep building from the first – “Cecily Strong” makes a lot of its impression on listeners through a process of accumulation rather than laying out all its cards at once. Mahogany opens the track with a somewhat minimalist approach – it’s his voice and electric piano – but light percussion and other electronic touches join the mix as the track progresses. His much ballyhooed skill with melody is in evidence throughout “Cecily Strong”, but it doesn’t overwhelm listeners. Despite the subtle satirical nature of the track, it’s interesting as well how low key Mahogany keeps things for the duration of the song.
The lyrics are further evidence for his low key approach. The song, named after a Saturday Night Live performer, comes to life via brushstrokes rather than bludgeoning listeners over the head in an obvious way. Mahogany has an outstanding voice for this sort of material, a little coy, playful, but able to navigate the song’s phrasing without a single hiccup and underplaying the comedic aspects. He doesn’t possess a “traditional” singing voice by any stretch, but it is nonetheless well suited for what he does with “Cecily Strong”.
His pop skills continue to impress with the second track “Guard”. It starts in a similar manner to the title track, but this time it is Mahogany’s voice accompanied by traditional piano and the combination strikes quite a vulnerable note. Overt similarities, however, end there. Percussion comes in along with stylish electronic music and the pace picks up once the track begins in earnest. There’s a personal nature to the lyrical content and there’s little of the comedic inclinations manifested in the EP’s title track. His idiosyncratic approach to composition continues shining through, however, and the pop credentials he brings to the table are beyond question. It ends in memorable fashion. What a track.
Cecily Strong only has two songs, but they are of such high quality they will whet newcomers appetite for more. Pleb Mahogany has a relentlessly modern songwriting vision that, nevertheless, maintains a death grip on the fundamentals distinguishing any great song. The deceptively ambitious nature of these two songs shouldn’t pass you by – few others are writing and recording pop music this intelligent in 2019.
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