Mandi Strachota’s latest album, Unleashed, provides an intimately curated glimpse of the creative genius pervading Mandi’s world. The Atlanta artist brings outstanding vocals and a keen set of rhythms to Unleashed, sending a message extolling individualism in the midst of altruism, and an ever-present spirit of celebration in musical form, arriving at a final crescendo in the sneakily pumping “These Shoes.”
The album begins with “Growing Pains.” The sound fades in, a cacophony of strings: plucked, bowed, and strummed at their own unique velocities, gathered around a pulsing percussive beat. The vocals are expansive in a way that gives the sense right off the bat that the only thing that Mandi has left to the imagination on this album is the stuff that is still a mystery to her. The lyrics ponder the road traveled and the road that lies ahead. “My Time To Shine” forges on with an essence of that tropical astroturf retro gameshow sound. Mandi slides through the lines like a cool plantain sliding into hot grease, leaving the flute and guitar in deep conversation. The song exudes a sensual destiny, a four-minute prelude to a burst of excitement from the unknown, and at its end I found myself wanting to hear what came next. Mandi Strachota really knows how to put an album together.
The next song, “Cuckoo,” begins with a darkly introspective strum, the unleashed Mandi licking her lips. What comes next is an impressive feat of songwriting, presented beautifully, with a dreamy electric guitar solo respite from the linguistic contemplation of Nietzsche’s belly button lint. “These Days” begins smoothly, like a riverside sunset. Mandi’s vocals hold a youthful disillusionment that, while singing about misfortune, impart a promise of better days ahead. The horns provide a steadiness that pairs well with the choppiness that life has thrown at Mandi (and anyone else, for that matter). The vocals are softer in this track than in others on the album, ranging high and low with the cushiony melody of the instrumental.
In “Scream,” Mandi reaches out to that person we all know, that unenlightened soul whose morality and humanity have been hijacked. In even, large tones, Mandi speaks to the need for people to acknowledge what is real, and to extricate herself from the restrictions that hold her back. The spoken word beginning feels serious, but by the end of the song, with backup vocals putting Mandi’s pipes on display, the feeling is more all-embracing and celebratory.
“Ready to Run” begins with a bass line entwined with guitar. This stripped-down production instantly grabs your attention like rows of identical fluorescent macarons in a pastry case. The vocals are smooth and thick, and lyrics build upon themselves, constructing a tower of a song, with Mandi commanding from the top floor.
The first words of “Just Rain” are delivered with perfection in a pure soulful voice. Then comes in the swaggering guitar, plucked clean like the burnt cheese off the side of a pan of nachos. In “Just Rain” Mandi just sings. And when she just sings, she taps into that reserve of creative volume every human holds within at some depth, that which when tapped, transports its owner to another plane of existence, as if the notes were coming from someone or something else. Mandi Strachota’s performance in “Just Rain” is breathtaking, awe-inspiring, and a good time, in that order.
In “You Were Right,” guitar melody floats on the windswept waters of the cymbal-backed vocals. Mandi cedes that she lost a battle, but the victor will eventually have to pay for the karmic debt racked up and marinated in the spoils of their success. Delivering the deep lyrics, Mandi’s vocals have a sharp uniqueness that jabs at me through my efforts to not compare artists to other artists, persisting in my thoughts with a comparison to Winehouse’s irresistible wail. It’s justified.
An island beat ushers in “The Chocolate Song,” a flowing song about decision making under the influence of cacao. “Nothing Anyway” takes the tone of the album down from the previous track, baring emotional truths like old tattoos and trivializing the incongruities of a relationship that put it in the rearview mirror.
Turning the tone back up again is “My Heaven,” a track textured with popping vocals and funky organ. Through the lyrics, Mandi explores her possibilities and potential, provided she puts some action toward turning the current situation into her own heaven. With “My Heaven” Mandi walks on the escalator, eats the shrimp tail, and strides through puddles in platform sandals. This is her proclamation of living on her own terms. Amen. On to the final track of the album: “These Shoes.” The song, which has a fantastic video up on YouTube, begins with a mélange of eclectic beats to produce a collection of individual strides that, when put together, hold a primordial power as certain as the Fibonacci sequence.
Unleashed, particularly “These Shoes,” might be considered a distillation of Mandi Strachota, but I strongly suspect there is more there. I hope she continues to make music for a very long time. Mandi and her crew will be at her album release party at Darwin’s Burgers and Blues on the 24th. Be there, go as yourself, and don’t forget to dance.