If Taylor Swift was haunted by the ghost of Warren Zevon while she made an album, it might sound like Juliana Frangella’s 10-song debut LP, “Intrusive Thoughts,” Like Swift, she surprisingly inspires empathy and relatability in the face of young female angst. Like Zevon, her witty wordplay and skewering sarcasm are hysterical.
When longtime music compadre Mike Montrey told me about this project, I couldn’t imagine why he would want to produce it other than to make one of his guitar students happy. And then when I heard a couple of lines in the title track, I thought, why is Mike makin me waste my time with this privileged little girl who can’t navigate high school in the luxury of a hot tub. How’s she going to cope in the real world? But what’s that they say about judging a book — or an album — by its cover?
The LP is masterfully produced by Mike, a celebrated singer-songwriter-guitarist who, along with his excellent self-named Americana band, has won a few Makin Waves Awards. I mean, think about. He took the angst of a privileged suburban white girl and turned it into a cohesive exercise in expression, the emotions of which are amplified by delicious layers of performances, especially the vocals and guitars.
But the best part is the way in which 18-year-old Juliana, who was just 16 when she started writing these songs, finds a way to make almost anyone relate to her and have empathy for her whether it be her knack for universal phrasing or a delightful sense of humor. Either way, the relatability factor of “Intrusive Thoughts” is through the roof.
Don’t make the mistake of writing this talented lass off like I first did. Fans of the two aforementioned artists, as well as Colbie Caillat, Nirvana, Joan Jett, and Elvis Costello will greatly enjoy this LP if they give it a chance.
The expressive fun kicks off with the Colbie-like jangle and countryesque pine of “Green Light in the Dark,” an expression of the chronic boredom and dichotomous torrent of feelings that inspired the album. “I’ve been thinking,” Juliana whimsically whines. “I know how dangerous that sounds.”
Right from the get go within the album’s opening verse, Juliana shares a self-deprecating humor that’s funny, charming and endearing throughout her “Intrusive Thoughts,” especially when she immediately asks to be “heard out” at the end of that first verse, thereby perhaps unknowingly drawing the listener in. She certainly deserves to be heard based on the the album’s quality of production, performances, and songwriting, which, on the opening track, includes deliciously impressive references to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic, “The Great Gatsby.”
With the next track, “Apathy,” Juliana proves that she is one of the few songwriters who has covered apathy with empathy. As unlikely as that may seem, she pulls off the contradiction with witty wordplay and the conflicting, bittersweet emotions of lost love.
Turbulent teenage love continues on “Rings,” a really funny self-deprecating breakup tune about dealing with an ex while forced to take gym class and walk through the halls with him. Laugh-out-loud funny lines are balanced with a sense of endearment that makes the angst understandable and again, empathetic.
The bittersweet Nirvanaesque angst of “This Is Getting Old” and the sassy Joan Jett-like edge of the album’s first single and video, “Did I Write You?,” bring us midway through Juliana’s impressive debut. The sadness of “Everest” then is heightened by Mike’s haunting guitar, while the humor gets turned back on with the LP’s second single, “Put the Pen Down,” a funny rhyme with an Elvis Costello-like stutter.
Really great songwriting and production are showcased on “Parasite,” especially when layers of girl screams punctuate Juliana’s jarring admission of “silly songs.” On “Roadkill,” she presents one of her best lines — “a player wants to be played,” which sounds like it should be in a movie starring Matthew McConaughey.
The title track nicely closes the album with a clever summation of the angst and boredom that inspired it. The tune apparently was inspired by the pool party it depicts.
I hope that “Intrusive Thoughts” take Juliana very far, and she isn’t hindered by OCD. Based on what I’ve seen of her April 7 record release party at The Chubby Pickle, she rocks these songs, plus a couple of choice covers, live. See her June 17 at Manalapan Day at the township recreation center. For more, visit https://julianafrangella.com.