The lead-up to Los Angeles chanteuse Bara Hari’s proper debut LP has proven intriguing; first appearing in 2021 with the rough around the edges Dark New Days, Sam Franco’s exponential growth in terms of confidence in a mere two years and execution is notable. The sound of Lesser Gods is still the pop-leaning darkwave we’ve come to expect from the project, built out with lush arrangements of electronics, guitar, and piano and layers of Franco’s distinctive vocals.
Lesser Gods largely trades in hook-forward tunes that don’t waste time establishing themselves. “Tempest” is an early highlight, both by virtue of Franco’s resolute performance, matching her cadence and delivery to the song’s big piano chords and splashy cymbals, carrying the tune through a whirlwind of breakdowns and quick verse-chorus transitions. That same template is applied to pre-release single “House of the Devil”, albeit spiked with crunchy guitars and strings, playing up budget symphonics to big dramatic effect. On the more electronic numbers Franco stretches herself out a bit more, taking up the space that might otherwise have been dedicated to instrumentation with added application of her voice; “Looking for Oblivion” is relatively minimal instrumentally, but feels big by virtue of how the vocals skip from center across the stereo spectrum, where the trip-hoppy “Agoraphobic” has Franco bouncing atop evolving bass patches.
If the record has a failing, it’s that Franco doesn’t show much emotional range in her performances. The record is lyrically oriented towards a pretty potent mixture of scorn (both towards the performer herself and directed outwards) and anxiety, a mode that lets Bara Hari come across as bold and brash, but doesn’t allow her much vulnerability; on numbers like “Easy Target” which focus on deceit and betrayal, its hard to detect the hurt that fuels her rebukes. And while the vitriolic kiss-off to superficiality and the chase of fame of closing track “Immortal” certainly makes for an excellent thematic capper, it comes on the heels of so many tonally comparable songs it’s hard to situate Franco herself in the narrative.
Then again, the album art featuring Sam in robes, and the title Lesser Gods itself invoke the not inconsiderable pantheon of vengeful Greek goddesses. The wronged she’s channeling don’t need for us to sympathize, nor do they care if we see the reason behind their contempt; as Franco puts it on “Immoral Tales”, ‘You’re gonna hate me/No matter what I say’, a posture that gives her the freedom to call down storms on her enemies without pity, or understanding.