Review Summary: "Kat Hunter: vocals, piano, organ, guitar, violin, cello, alto saxophone, banjo, electronics"
A quick one for this album, a recondite pop gem well worth my effort + well above my skill-set. It’s a weird record to bow to, but as its newest disciple, I wish to make this clear: musically, lyrically, and aesthetically, this is a cosmic event of a record. It’s one of those rare instances where the product appears so much larger than its source, where the old “the sky is the limit” cliché rings with a truth unusual for an artist anchored to obscure corners of her local music scene. It makes me feel like I can overcome anything, which – I think – is no coincidence. We’ll get to that shortly.
Kat Hunter has a stunning voice; her peaks are powerful and graceful enough to soar alongside her symphonic horn arrangements, but she doesn’t Lack the Lows, either. As a composer, she’s even more impressive, endeavouring to dismantle her arrangements halfway through a track so she can rebuild them around a singular refrain or melody. As the aphorism goes, Bird One is a memorable hook, Bird Two is the crystallisation of the pertinent theme, and this rearranging is her stone of choice. Progress
has Hunter finding and acting on her own volition with the lyric ”I’ve been thinking that it’s time for me to do what I’ve been saying I’d do for so long”
, and its worth believing; the horn section codifying the sentiment as though it should be received as gospel.
And the gospel, from where I’m standing, looks to journey through pages assessing, lamenting, and beckoning perseverance. Dream Every Night of Running
kicks up a storm and then rummages through the remains, its Pyramid Song progression in the latter half preceding the huge, orchestral arrangements that dominate the last few songs, belying the idea that 1) Lack the Low is predominantly a solo project and 2) this is Kat Hunter’s debut record. But One Eye Closed
isn’t Hunter’s note-to-self, it’s really quite inclusive -- a communal meditation presenting the listener with obstacles so as to teach them, without sanctimony or pretention, the same lesson that Hunter is teaching herself. The first half of the record is accessible in this sense, relatively easy listening, like a Sharon Van Etten jaunt if Van Etten sang about breakthroughs instead of break-ups. The listener grows complacent here, and thus it becomes necessary to really engage with the album as it progresses, in order to grapple with the stylistic switch-ups that dominate the final few pieces.
[sidenote: the record is streaming on Echoes and Dust, who’ve labelled the vocals “Thom Yorke-esque”, which is fine, but i can’t help but think she instead combines the soul of Van Etten with the vocal elasticity of Bjork. maybe i’m short on reference points.]
But the final run of songs! Oh Lord, from The Daylight Is All Inside
to God Knows Why
, Hunter contorts pop conventions into the weirdest shapes, believing wholly in the listener’s ability to adapt and persist through the shifting vistas illustrated in her songs. Sure enough, one learns to see behind the standoffish time signatures in It Did, I Can’t
, or the formlessness that makes The Daylight…
. Seven Different Species
especially feels like an apt title -- all of the species contained within the five-minute margin, writhing and pulsating within the everchanging scaffold. It’s because the chord progression here feels arbitrary, eschewing the tension/release paradigm for an overwhelming amount of tension. The scene eventually turns menacing, and Hunter gets swallowed up in the mix -- caught in the folds before escaping into God Knows Why
: a Grand Finale, a rallying cry. Note the bottled-up optimism here: “You might just make it after all
Those challenging, unresolved chord progressions actually litter the back half of this record. Speaking to the creativity and scrupulousness involved in such layered instrumentals: one friend said these songs are “decaying”, another complained that it just feels like Hunter is “picking chords out of a hat”. Regardless, the three of us agree, at least, that the approach effectively exhibits Kat’s ambition and songwriting prowess. This album is also grandiose, all-encompassing. It returns everything the world throws at it tenfold and proves that there is always always always
another path to what one must achieve/attain.
I said this write-up would be a quick one, but it turns out I had a lot to say. So does One Eye Closed
, honestly -- it's just that, when it speaks, it's much more interesting, and much more eloquent.