Mad Meg’s second album Puberty Tales dropped last week and it is an enchanting, inspired record. Led by renowned photographer Ilya Popenko, Mad Meg deals in eclectic, exotic tunes with darkly humorous lyrics that spin yarns and tell tales as tall as the sky. While the raucous, stellar band deserves a great deal of praise for their impeccable work on Puberty Tales, Popenko must also be credited for his distinctive voice that is of a natural narrator leading listeners on far-off adventures in faraway lands (even if said lands are eerily familiar with some denizens drinking “PBR-Arr-Arr-Arr” as on “Scary People”).
The band’s cultural critique of the modern era appears throughout the album on tracks like “Circling the Drain” or “Sunday Nights” and it is couched in the giddy, propulsive style of the band as well as an outsider’s view of America which gives it a mystique and sense of fun that simply would not have read without the layers of Mad Meg’s theatricality. Even the most mundane and humorous concepts are heightened to indie film level drama, such as in the wistful “Polish Girl” which tells the tale of a man who once believed girls didn’t fart and he’d one day marry Milla Jovovich. Now, somewhat on in his years, that same man longs to return to the days and diner where a certain Polish girl worked. As jazzy and exotic musical influences flood into the song, the story continues and it becomes clear that the Polish girl has moved on and gotten married, but the unattainable still inspires and drives the tune which beautifully devolves into an almost spoken word/jazz scatting outro over ever softening cymbals.
However, Puberty Tales should not be reduced merely to its cinematic storytelling for it is full of masterful music such as the funky organ of “The Very Last Train” that eventually peels off into a jaunty, blistering solo over smoky horns and building percussion. The track’s opener, “Sky Grows Taller” spans a number of genres through deft piano work and unorthodox instrumentation. Whether it’s recalling epic tales of intrigue and transoceanic mystery or simply a rollicking polka punk rocker, the music of Puberty Tales accomplishes much through its melange of styles and tones.