Originally self-released in March of this year to a quick sell-out, Washington, D.C. singer-songwriter Ava Mirzadegan aka Pen Palindrome has re-released Dilettante Ball, a lovely set of gentle, intimate folk demos, through Painted Blonde, with all-new artwork from label head Jason Lambeth, re-recordings of select tracks, and two songs previously only available on cassette editions, compilations, or as digital singles.
On Dilettante Ball, Mirzadegan’s melodic sensibilities and song structures feel somewhat reminiscent of Vashti Bunyan, though more subdued in their whimsical properties: if Bunyan makes music for frolicking through a magical forest before taking a nap under a tree, Mirzadegan makes music for tucking yourself into bed in a cozy, cutely decorated room. Like Bunyan, many of the songs could be classified as lullabies, and in fact opener “Niab’s Lullaby” classifies itself as such right in its title. Tranquilly weaving its way through a soft, plucked, hypnotizing melody and accompanied by Mirzadegan’s clear, mellow vocals, it makes for very relaxing soul balm.
“Anna, I’m Sorry” is more forward in its approach, the closest thing to a pop song featured on the album. It’s odd to call it a ‘march’ as it’s still rather relaxed, but within the greater context of the album, it feels a bit like one as it tackles post-breakup regret with slightly more forceful play. Dilettante Ball is an album of verses, not hooks, but the interplay between “Anna, I’m sorry” and “And I am sorry” and the single use of repetition make it the strongest example of one.
Favorites include the next two tracks, “Pavement” (new to this version of Dilettante Ball and originally released on a Boy Tears compilation) and “Ohio” (featured on Z Tapes Spring ’19 compilation). The former is another very lullaby-like song, featuring quiet, slowly expanding and contracting ambient synthwork backing another gorgeous guitar melody and evocative pained cries of “She’s gooooooooooooooone.” “Ohio” has a a bit of a more sensual and brooding vibe in the notes and tone applied to the end of each melodic sequence that catches the ear and allows it to stand out among its sibling songs.
These are un-mastered demos, so the recordings do get a bit shaky when played loud, but this isn’t an album to play loud and thus isn’t much of an issue. Otherwise, everything is very clear and very pretty.
Listening to Dilettante Ball is a lot like being tightly cocooned in a warm, fuzzy blanket. This is a collection of soft, sweet songs that have evolved to take on cute little lives of their own, and it’s worth getting to know all of them.
Favorite tracks: “Pavement”, “Ohio”
Rating: Strongly Recommended
You can purchase Pen Palindrome’s Dilettante Ball here.