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Doug Paisley - Starter Home Music Album Review

Gracefully navigating the intersection of folk-rock and country, the gentle-voiced songwriter turns detailed images of domestic tranquility and promise into reflections on disappointment.
For a decade, Canadian singer/songwriter Doug Paisley has turned quiet, specific moments into inquiries on life’s larger struggles. On his 2010 breakthrough, Constant Companion, Paisley used the inevitability of endings to explore understanding oneself, the only possible “constant companion.” For 2014’s Strong Feelings, he mulled death and its uneasy relationship with life, or how their juxtaposition ripples into every wave of existence. And now, on his fourth album, Starter Home, Paisley details the chasm that separates what poet Seamus Heaney described as “getting started” and “getting started again.” These songs examine how the person you are never truly aligns with the person you want to be, especially when you stumble upon a sticking point that’s hard to move past.

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Lotic - Power Music Album Reviews

The debut from the Berlin-based producer explores at the idea of power in the world and within themself, tiptoeing the line between exuberance and terror.

Since 2011, Lotic has played in a space of heightened contrasts, embracing the hyperreal potentials of electronic music much like their contemporaries Arca and Sophie. And like those producers, Lotic has moved from a tight focus on the more formal aspects of their music—the serrated edges of a given synthesizer patch or the structure of a mangled club beat—to a broader, more comprehensive look at narrative and affect. Made during a period of instability and homelessness, Power, their debut album, weaves Lotic’s voice into the palette established by 2015’s Heterocetera and Agitations EPs. Those records were certainly evocative, both in their jagged, glitching sounds and in track titles like “Trauma” and “Slay,” but they felt like they were hinting at a thematic core that never fully surfaced. There’s a difference between making music around yourself and making music about yourself. On Power, Lotic gets personal.

The nameless weight that stalked Heterocetera and Agitations lets up somewhat on Power. Lotic’s voice—most often presented as a whisper or a murmur, more a rhythmic tool than a vehicle for melody—cuts through the tension inherent to their production style. Hearing a flurry of hi-hats and the growl of a square-wave synth can be alienating, albeit thrilling, without an explicitly human element to latch onto; by lacing the voice into their work, Lotic offers a hand to the listener, as if saying, “I’m here with you.” Some of the most fascinating moments on Power arise when Lotic’s voice comprises the song’s backbone. A repeated vocal measure begins “Hunted,” and it sets the tempo for the big band beat that later stomps in. The voice is not the accessory, rather it’s the director of the action; the words Lotic says don’t merely glance off the instrumentation, they invite the drum rolls and queasy synth lines to keep pace with their urgency.

“Brown skin, masculine frame/Head’s a target/Acting real feminine/Make ’em vomit,” Lotic whispers, caught in the uncanny space between feeling in control of their presence and being acutely aware that their existence as a black transfeminine person puts them in danger. They collapse the word “masculine” to the space of a single syllable, then elongate “feminine” as if it’s something they’re showing off for a crowd. Around their words, the percussion veers between threatening and celebratory, as the experience of moving through the world as a trans person often is, simultaneously. There is so much joy in manifesting as you really are, and then there is the world.

The album tiptoes that line between exuberance and terror. Strings climb an octave over a lurching, ramshackle drum pattern on “Distribution of Care,” then, at the song’s midpoint, flip directions and began tumbling down toward an uneasy bassline. The drums pick up speed soon after the reversal, as if closing in on a target. Elsewhere, moments of softness and levity emerge: On “Fragility,” tubular bells map a sweet melody against an industrial scrape of percussion, and on “Heart,” Lotic duets with Argentinian artist Moro, singing an unstable melody that vaults sporadically into the head voice, as though both artists were seized by unexpected moments of tenderness. “I’ll give you my heart/If I can trust you,” they each sing alternately. It’s a disarming moment on a dense album, a raw edge left unsmoothed.

Power’s closing track, “Solace,” sees Lotic at their most emotionally exposed. Rather than dance among nervous, complex percussion, their voice floats among thick slabs of bass, gentle chains of synthesizers, and deep, gnashing drums that apply and then relieve pressure as they appear and disappear. “It’s gonna be okay,” Lotic repeats, their syllables long and syrupy, as if they were self-soothing after trauma. Toward the end of the song, their vocals seem to blend with their surroundings—it can be hard to pick out where a wordless backing voice ends and a high note on a keyboard begins. That confusion feels less like a dissolving of the album’s human presence and more like a reconciliation of it, an exposition of the emotional within the technical. On Power, Lotic re-harnesses their production proficiency toward a trickier goal than what they’ve attempted in the past. In the center of their elaborate electronic constructions, they’ve staged their deeply human terrors and triumphs, and traced the way the power structures of the world flow around them.

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