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Released on Jan. 26, indie-folk musician Katy Kirby’s second album “Blue Raspberry” showcases a developed, distinct sound that focuses on the hard realities and deceptions of love. This impressive sophomore effort unites thoughtful production and songwriting to construct a compelling narrative of an intense, transformative relationship.
In the first few bars of the album’s opener, “Redemption Arc,” Kirby’s soft-spoken, effortless voice steals the show. Flowing smoothly over heavy piano chords, her words soar yet still drip with veiled resentment as she begrudgingly grants a lover a second chance. Her singing is gentle to the point of feeling emotionally detached at first. But Kirby slowly pulls back the curtain to reveal uncertainty and yearning by inserting subtle tonal inflections and strains that break up her otherwise immaculate vocal delivery. Expert arranging contributes to this tension between a relationship’s aesthetics and substance. Piercing horns and a wailing string orchestra join the mix and crescendo as Kirby mockingly sings, “You’re doing the work now / You’re trying so hard / Oh, this one goes out to / Your redemption arc.”
Kirby is at her best in these contemplative moods, and much of “Blue Raspberry” dwells in this space. Heavy piano chords are widely present, but the record also samples a broad array of sonic hues from folk, rock, and indie palettes. “Hand to Hand” creates its frustrated, exhausted tone through muted guitar plucking and warp-like distortion that shimmers in the background. Bringing the acoustic guitar into the spotlight, “Party of the Century” utilizes a catchy and ringing lead guitar line to guide a more cathartic vignette of the reckless joys of being in love.
“Cubic Zirconia,” the most polished song on the album, features the full gamut of textures and instrumentation. The upbeat tune starts with urgent electric piano chords that are soon joined by closely miked acoustic guitar strumming. Electric guitar fills expertly layer into the mix leading into the chorus, and Kirby’s voice floats sweetly on top of it all.
The track is also remarkable in its rich, clever lyrics. “Cubic Zirconia / Baby, no one can tell / When they're up against your throat / You know they shine just as well,” Kirby sings. In this succinct metaphor, Kirby confronts deception in a relationship before conceding that a counterfeit reality may be good enough for her after all. Yet, the threat of violence and catastrophe still lurks with the visceral image of hard gems digging into someone’s throat. Indeed, the songwriting currency of this record seems to be metaphors involving minerals, glass, and other pretty things that glimmer but also distort one’s perception of reality. “Hand to Hand” contemplates a cracked glass jar; the title track pairs bittersweet memories with images of sugarcane.
The crystal motif feels contrived and repetitive at times, but Kirby’s subtle creativity keeps it fresh for the most part. On the aptly titled “Salt Crystal,” she recalls how “The rhinestones on your baseball cap reminding me of when / The salt left crystal on the sunset of your sunburned skin.” Again, there’s undeniable beauty in these crystalline representations that highlight the love Kirby has for her significant other, but these sparkling metaphors also hint at the stinging aftermath to the relationship.
In her artist’s biography, Kirby describes how “Blue Raspberry” is an “exegesis of [her] first queer relationship” and its “crescendo and collapse.” The album is a moving tribute to self-discovery and first loves that features some of the best songwriting and production in today’s indie-folk scene. It’s autobiographical and personal but leaves enough room for listeners to find themselves in Kirby’s words. It’s a narrative that embraces contradiction, presenting a retrospective account that still feels viscerally lived and present.
—Staff writer Andrew K. Choe can be reached at email@example.com.
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