By JON CARAMANICA
Published: October 30, 2013
How much longer will Sky Ferreira not get what she wants? The agony of disappointment is wearing on her, and animating her. See “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)” — which turns lashing out into a sticky, moody song — from her bracing, aggressive and surprisingly tender debut album, “Night Time, My Time” (Capitol).
For much of the song, her singing telegraphs as eye-rolling, exasperated boredom, even when the words are sour: “You say you don’t wanna hear me complain/Just trying to get my point across/You don’t seem to care if I’m feeling lost.” It rests somewhere near the intersection of Marilyn Manson’s motorized angst and Best Coast’s mournful tunefulness, which is to say Courtney Love.
That’s driven home near the end, when Ms. Ferreira borrows a page from Ms. Love, and amps up her voice, turning a burr into a shriek. Her sadness, bordering on petulant rage, is palpable.
That explosion is a breakout moment for a young singer who has spent much of the past few years struggling to be heard. Signed at the age 15, Ms. Ferreira has been stuck in an extended purgatory of failed pop experiments, as if pop were all a young woman was meant to do.
But it turns out that when Ms. Ferreira, now 21, sings about being systematically denied, she shines. Most of the best songs on this impressive album are about failure, or longing, or feeling apart.
Which, perversely and paradoxically, places her squarely at the center of contemporary female pop. The year’s recent pop blockbusters have all been downers of a sort — Miley Cyrus’s “Bangerz” (RCA) has a streak of sadness underpinning its “who wants what” attitude, and Katy Perry’s “Prism” (Capitol) is the sound of giving up on youth in favor of a more measured adulthood. Neither album is exuberant, or saccharine.
But both are contemporary in a way that Ms. Ferreira rejects; she is the most authentically down of all. Everything about her album is a counterstroke. Her influences are more considered, more stance taking: late 1970s art-rock, mid-1980s soundtrack pop. (Her song “24 Hours” could easily have been the theme for “Pretty in Pink.”) Ms. Ferreira was the album’s executive producer, and the songs were produced by Ariel Rechtshaid and Justin Raisen, who have fashioned Ms. Ferreira as a dream-girl/antihero, ambitious in scale but reluctant in tone.
There isn’t even a flash of the optimistic bubbly pop she delivered with the producer Dev Hynes on “Everything Is Embarrassing,” the 2012 single that was her first breath of genuine life in five years of missteps.
The closest she comes is the album opener, “Boys,” about finding a gem in the rough, though she sounds more at home singing about the rough. “24 Hours,” too, has the urgent synthesizers that connoted sexual awakening three decades ago, and the chorus is as transcendent as any love ballad. But Ms. Ferreira lays a death sentence atop them: “If this isn’t real, just can’t deal/ In a way, you could say, I was always a cynic.”
While there is some optimistic music here, many of her choices are abrasive: the doom-and-gloom post-New Age on the title track, the heavy feedback on the purposefully odd “Omanko,” the grimy guitars and heavily treated vocals on “Kristine.”
And in places, she treats herself roughly in the lyrics, too, especially on “I Blame Myself,” which is striking, on an album about how others disappoint, for its ruthless look in the mirror. She lets others off the hook for misjudging her — “Is it because you know my name?/Or is it because you saw my face on the cover?” — though it’s unclear who she’s trying to placate or why in painting such a dark picture of herself.
How could you know what it feels like to fight the hounds of hell?
You think you know me so well
How could you know what it feels like to be outside yourself?
You think you know me so well
I just want you to realize I blame, I blame myself
All that letdown, all that disappointment — perhaps Ms. Ferreira feels the blame falls on her shoulders, the opposite of her sentiment on “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay).” If so, that’s sad, but after an album like this, who will deny Ms. Ferreira? Maybe only herself.