ALBUM REVIEW: Donna Missal travels backward though heartbreak on ‘Lighter’

Donna Missal Lighter, Donna Missal

Almost two years following the success of her debut album, This Time, the 29-year-old Angeleno Donna Missal gets personal, painting stories of heartbreak and triumph. Missal describes her sophomore album, Lighter, as “represent[ing] the concept of burning shit down all around you and rising from the ashes.”

Donna Missal
Harvest Records, July 10

While the first album showcased her distinctive voice that’s influenced by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin on songs like “Keep Lying” and “Girl,” the New Jersey native takes a different approach on Lighter to create more transparency in her writing to mirror her truest emotions.

Lighter opens with the droning buzz of a distorted bass on “How Does it Feel.” The twinkling of piano keys dance alongside the raw guitar acoustics and the airy bass drum as the song prompts a moment of carelessness reflected in her lyrics as an image of driving: “Highway running/ Gunning/ Down the interstate.” The escapism is easily painted in the listener’s mind accompanied by the reverb of an echoing guitar and flourishing notes.

Following the mid-tempo opener is “Hurt By You,” a folky pop song meant to gets people immediately dancing. The chorus unveils the rhythmic bass and snappy drumming as Donna Missal’s larger-than-life vocals beautifully fill the song. The reverb-drenches guitar strumming that opens “Let You Let Me Down” leads to the slowly building, strong vocals of Missal, who in the past has described herself as a “screaming female.” Whether you rhythmically head-bang or nod along as the Missal’s voice grows gritty on the chorus will vary, yet it’s still impressive as her wailing high notes pierce through the crescendoing apex.

On the other end of the spectrum, slower ballad “Carefully” begins with a bright and playful piano as Missal’s more angelic range shimmers through the instrumentation of mournful guitar lines and off-key piano to echo Missal’s pain and sorrow and she belts out the drawn-out notes, “If you wanted to leave/ You could have done it carefully.” 

Songs like “Bloom” and “Who Loves You” are the rawest and most vulnerable on Lighter. The stripped-down ballads highlight fragility while focusing on clearly personal experience. The message is much more inspirational on “Slow Motion:” I won’t head down that road/ So I loosen up my hold.” Missal is saying that if you love something, you also must be able to let it go.

“I know you can’t admit that you want me back and you feel like shit,” Donna Missal sings on the pop-country-influenced “Best Friend.” It’s a relatable point, for sure. The angst also appears on “Just Like You,” which invokes the ’90s sound of artists like Natalie Imbruglia, Meredith Brooks and Alanis Morissette.

The album concludes with the transparent “I’m Not Ready.” “If I’m honest with myself/ I’m still terrified at best/ I tried/ I’ll admit/ I’m not ready,” Missal sings as the songs ends in a haze of distorted guitars.

Upon initial listen, it may feel like the tracks on Lighter follow a winding path through Missal’s memories and mirror a rollercoaster of emotions after a heartbreak. But there’s a caveat! The song order is actually flipped, telling a story in reverse. Whether you listen to it as-is or backward, you’ll ultimately reach the same conclusion. Renewal is like a phoenix rising from the ashes, and Donna Missal does just that with her newfound sound.

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