Critic’s Corner: Alfa Garcia – Second Skin

I discovered Alfa Garcia through her various participation in Kollaboration events and videos. I was intrigued by her unique, smoky voice so when her debut album dropped last summer I made it a point to pick it up. Well, this also means that this review is a good 6 months or so late and for that I apologize. I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the album, since I’ve only heard bits and pieces of her singing in all the Kollaboration promos. Independent singer songwriters come a dime a dozen so I really wondered if Alfa had what it takes to stick out from the pack.

So how did Second Skin fare? Read on to find out!

Supergirl – The album starts off with a bouncy piano anchored track that shows off Alfa’s unique and charming vocals. This is probably one of the better known songs from the album and for good reason. I really like the arrangement of the song and Alfa’s uplifting lyrics that somehow avoid being too corny. A great start!

Love As Tragedy: A Play In 3 Acts – Alfa takes the song in a more energetic pop rock direction and I’m not entirely convinced it’s a perfect fit for her. Her voice and singing style don’t feel quite as comfortable on this type of track. I liked that she branched out with this song but it ends up being an OK song as opposed to a great one. That and the hook gets a bit repetitive.

Second Skin – As the title track, ‘Second SKin’ also serves as a pretty good representation of who Alfa is, at least within the scope of this album. It’s a pretty good mid-tempo track that kind of sounds like Train or Dave Matthews. I appreciate the fact that this number is catchy without relying on gimmicks or shallow lyrics.

Don’t Write Your Goodbyes – Alfa has a gift for crafting subtle melodies that are easy to follow and unknowingly get stuck in your head. That’s an asset important to any singer/songwriter. I also liked the guitar driven music and how Alfa’s vocals sound over the track. Her voice is really textured and sounds great when gently layered. Another strong single.

Isabelle – Injecting a bit of French influence, Isabelle is a great change of pace for the album. The changes in style and instrumentation would likely come off awkward for a lot of artists but Alfa’s switches it all up effortlessly, blending in seamlessly. She even breaks out the French in the bridge and sounds beautiful (at least to my untrained ear). I consider this to be a welcome novel inclusion to the album.

Foot Out the Door – The song dips its toes into pop/rock territory again, but in a pretty well balanced manner. None of it feels too heavy or forced and the track still gives Alfa’s vocals enough room to breathe. The song style kind of reminds me of something Tim Be Told would have done. It’s an enjoyable song though I wouldn’t call it a highlight of the LP.

Nothing Ever Lasts – This song strips down the instrumentation, opening with just a guitar. Honestly I really enjoy it when Alfa has less instrumentation backing her up, it allows me to appreciate the colors of her voice. A couple instruments join in mid way but it isn’t over done. I wouldn’t have minded if they slowed down the track just a little bit though. The tempo felt a tad rushed.

Wear Your Shoes – Ms Garcia attempts a slightly harder sound again and it starts off kind of rough. It kind of reminds me of what Norah Jones might sound like singing an upbeat pop rock number… it’s just not the greatest style for someone with such an awesomely unique voice. The track definitely gets better as it progresses and perhaps I’m just being closed-minded but it comes off more as an imitation than anything else.

Hazy-eyed Troubadour – There are times I really enjoy the subtle twists in Alfa Garcia’s phrasing and this track is a great example of that. Though the melody seems vaguely familiar it still makes for a pretty fun number. The songs goes into a crazy bridge, and it definitely helps keep the track interesting. It’s all a bit abstract though, as I’m still not really sure I know what it’s about.

I Won’t – I have pretty mixed feelings about this song. There’s something about the way its mixed down that sounds a bit harsh to me… as if it’s not blended perfectly. But that technical quirk aside, I really like the contrasting tones of the song as it goes from a dark, edgier sound in the verses to a more upbeat one in the chorus. I also enjoyed the pragmatic aspects of the writing but there’s just something about the overall sound I’m not completely comfortable with.

Home To Me – You’ll likely notice the feel of this piece is pretty different from the rest of the album. That’s because it was done on her own personal gear as opposed to being done in a studio. But you know what? It makes the track all the more intimate and endearing. I actually wish she did this a bit more in this album, slowing things down and giving herself the space to just sing with emotion. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt track and a fantastic close to the record.

Second Skin is definitely a strong debut effort, though a bit of a safe one. Alfa doesn’t take too many risks in terms of style and sound, but when she does switch things up it pays off in flying colors. Much of the album’s 11 tracks are variations of the same mid-tempo pop/rock stylings with a twist of soul in there. The style fits her for the most part but with such an incredibly unique and attention grabbing voice I would have liked to see her try a few things to better show off her vocal gifts. Though the album isn’t incredibly long, some of the songs tend to blend together by the end with a couple exceptional notable standouts peppered through out. The album leaves very little to complain about, but offers glimpses of brilliance that forces me to wonder how much I’m missing out on. Alfa is one of the most promising artists I’ve heard in the long time, I hope she really learns to explore and expand her talents. The production and instrumentation on this album is commendable for sure, but there are many moments where I just don’t think she needs them. For instance she recently released a stripped down version of her singe “Don’t Write Your Goodbyes” and I actually much prefer that one over the album cut despite it already being strong as is. Overall I enjoyed this release and can’t wait to see how she grows on the next one.

Must Listen: Super Girl, Don’t Write Your Goodbyes, Isabelle, Home To Me

a-Tunes Score: 8.5/10

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