“I started trusting the piano more, I’ve started trusting my instincts more lately,” Melissa Weikart said. Her debut EP, Coffee, is an exercise in self-exploration enabled by this trust. Her expertly controlled vocals that sing introspective lyrics follow her syncopated, unusually plunked keys that culminate in a release that’s theatrical and honest.

Although Weikart said she’d never listened to Regina Spektor much, Coffee follows a lot of the stylization the Russian-American songwriter exercises, such as pounding out chaotic, discordant non-chords and grace notes ushering in the melody; or singing notes so high-pitched they enter dog ear territory. 

The opening track has many of these motifs, beginning with Weikart declaring: “Drink too much coffee and you’ll scream.” Each word follows its own rhythm, counterpointed by the piano, and her voice leaps between octaves. Her voice, like Spektor’s, wavers occasionally, slipping sharp or flat, but confidently finds its footing again after each accidental. Neither Weikart nor Spektor are afraid to embrace intentional mistakes.

“Coffee,” the song—and the EP, for that matter—is delightfully spare, featuring only Weikart’s voice and her piano in duet. It adds a poignancy to the lyrics, which are an outpouring of Weikart’s own soul: “I am better off of this poison that I love / but now it’s clear that I’m fucked up.” Her vocals are clean and confident, despite the slowly disintegrating piano track behind them; as the song goes on, the piano goes from classically informed simple chords to clusters of keys being struck with reckless abandon.

“It acts as a metaphor for control over my disposition and emotions,” she said, on coffee as a symbol. Weikart suffered from a bad bout of tendonitis that affected her ability to comfortably play piano. An avid coffee drinker and willing to try anything, she decided to cut the caffeinated indulgence out of her life in the hopes that it might improve her condition. “At the time of writing the song, I was thinking about how the injury had really controlled my life for a year, so I felt a lack of control then, and coffee was this literal manifestation of that.”

Weikart was brought up on classical piano, having played since the age of five. It became very much a facet of her sense of self and the tendonitis hurt more than just physically. “I couldn’t really play piano for more than fifteen minutes at a time,” she said. “That was emotionally really hard for me because I felt like part of my identity as a pianist was really stripped away.”

Thankfully, she’s since recovered and is able to continue playing beautiful music. On “Sorry” in particular there’s a dose of the kind of piano Weikart grew up playing. The song is quite different sonically from the rest of the EP: it’s gentle and more subdued, free from much of the ornamentation she adds on the other tracks. The piano is measured and follows melodic patterns while her voice is lamenting and honest. In fact, the lyrics highlight what Weikart employs across the EP as well as all of her music, which is that she likes to build songs off of singular moments or feelings that speak to the complexities of human experience. “I’m sorry that I’m sorry,” she sings on “Sorry,” speaking to a feeling many people share but seldom discuss: “I’m being human, it’s fine, we make mistakes, not everything has to be perfect.”

“Crooked” is a commentary on self-consciousness, with appropriately crooked instrumentation—piano that plods along with chunky atonal chords—and jagged rhythm to match. Weikart sing-whispers clusters of words so quickly that you feel out of breath just listening. From each inhalation you can hear the spontaneously inserted snaps counting the beat, the song is full of life and dynamism, as Weikart immerses herself completely into the song.

This begets her sense of the EP as a whole. “These songs are really intimate and dear to me, so it’s been kind of scary to share them with the world but it’s also been really exciting because people have been responding to them really positively,” she said. In fact, Coffee is so much an exercise in self expression that the cover, designed by her friend Julia Belamarich of Extra Vitamins, features Weikart’s face. “This project is a musical expression of myself, so I figured why not put a portrait of myself on it?”

You can pick up Coffee one of two ways: digitally or on cassette, an increasing trend in the indie and DIY communities. HEC, the label releasing the EP, releases exclusively on tape, which Weikart said wasn’t as futile as people assume. She said a lot of her friends listen to tapes in their cars while driving and that she herself even owned a tape player—“In the digital age where you have a lot of music on these online streaming platforms or you own things digitally, it’s nice to see a visual representation, a curated library of what you listen to,” she said. “That’s been important to people as a rejection of the digital age, in a way.” And she added that cassette hosted a unique sound, akin to vinyl, that cradles her songs and complements them.

She described her sound beyond genre names as “a lonely walk, maybe in a forest, the loneliness and the solitude keep you company.” You can join Weikart on this walk when HEC releases Coffee on December 11th.

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