On her first album released in 2003, Maria Bamford started her set by saying that she likes to use a lot of voices in her comedy because, "My own voice does not command the respect and the attention that I believe I deserve." At the time, this seemed like an accurate statement. On her newest album, 20%, the physical sound of her voice has not changed much, but the much-anticipated command for respect and attention has clearly made its entrance and it is not going anywhere.
Maria Bramford is a master of vocal acrobatics. She incorporates act outs using not only her body, but also her voice, so it transfers very naturally from a stage setting to an audio recording. This is not new information, but on 20% she takes it to the next level. This time around Bamford once again brings her staple vignettes to the mic, but the theatrical quality which she has always strived for in her standup is now fully realized. Her character voices on 20% are so well-defined and unique from her own that it feels more like listening to a live radio play than a comedy show. And the slight hesitation in switching gears she showed in her earlier years is now nowhere to be found. On the new album she floats naturally between her own voice and the voices of her characters with much more fluidity than ever before, skipping lightly between narration and theatre. Through all of this she never loses vocal definition, so even in a scene with several characters it is always crystal clear who is speaking.
The material is rooted mostly in her experiences with mental illness and recovery, which she explores with such frankness and candour that I don't even feel awkward about mentioning it right now. Even when mental health is not the focus of a joke, she shines a light on all the little possible neuroses surrounding the subject; peppering every setup with sharp asides which she throws away with absolute confidence.
20% is a satisfying example of artistic growth and Maria Bamford has leveled up to a new career phase. On her current trajectory, the future is exciting.