Ada Lea is interested in the in-between and unseen—the space between feeling broken and moving on.
It’s remarkable how sometimes an album is so well represented by its cover. The debut album from Ada Lea, the stage name of Montreal musician, painter and visual Alexandra Levy, happens to be one of those remarkable examples. It is an unsuspecting album—with a title like what we say in private, and a run-of-the-mill, intimate portrait of a songwriter in a quiet room, ruminating in their creativity—and one that might be easily judged as another bland breakup record. But when giving the cover art more than just a brief look, the off-putting realization that Levy, in her outstretched arms, is holding a detached braid of a different color hair than her own, signals that this is an album with much more beneath the surface. This subtle reconfiguring of expectation of overdone, banal expression makes for the perfect representation of the music that lies within, because what’s most successful throughout Ada Lea’s debut is how she manages to create flares of intrigue and excitement in what are, in there most basic form, relatively straightforward indie-rock and pop songs.
The tracks that stand out most on what we say in private are those that teeter on the edge of breaking down into musical expressionism. Album opener “mercury,” introduces listeners to the scratchy, distorted guitars, dark synthesizers and end-of-song musical climaxes that appear on tracks throughout the rest of the album. “wild heart,” is quieter in tone but begins to highlight Ada Lea’s interest in offbeat compositional breaks with moments of abstracted vocals, disorienting layered guitar plucking and nervous percussion. “for real now (not pretend)” moves in and out of low-key, basic electric guitar strumming and swirling electronics before closing with blaring, blown-out guitars. “what makes me sad” opens with a processed and twisted saxophone line and adds moments of airy guitars and synths as the song wanders along as a slightly bizarro ballad.
Meanwhile, “180 days” is built around clean guitar plucks and pockets of extremely peaceful ambiance, until about halfway through the song, when jittery electronics are introduced to the ethereal timbre, all eventually coalescing by the tracks gorgeous close. The most sustained, aggressive guitar tone of the entire record comes on the closer, “easy.” The track begins with over a minute of noisy instrumentals allowing for Ada Lea to let off steam. The frustrated energy of the music is reflected in Lea’s lyrics, as she sings about the exasperation of an “on again, off again,” cyclical relationship.
That said, what makes a song like “yanking the pearls off around my neck…” stand out amongst the collection is its musical bareness, and what feels like a lyrical divulging of what we say in private’s thesis statement. It is an incredibly gentle, finger-picked song reflecting upon a lost relationship and the apparent polarities in their characters. But Ada Lea seems less interested in these opposites, she sings “it is true that sunsets and storms get all the attention.” Throughout what we say in private, Ada Lea is interested in the in-between and unseen—the space between feeling broken and moving on, the edge where simple rock and pop songs fall into experimental cacophony and the conversations one has with oneself in the mirror.