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Rose Droll - Your Dog Music Album Reviews

After years of recording and quietly releasing beatific folk music, the Bay Area singer/songwriter flexes her voice and vision on pop songs of complicated feelings and private anxieties.

Rose Droll makes music that could soundtrack a yoga retreat. The 10 tracks on her debut LP, Your Dog, feel like individual breathing exercises. Her vocal range—from whisper-sung refrains to all-out shouts—mirrors a pranayama, a series of breathing techniques that transitions from panting to extended exhalation. Your Dog crisscrosses low-budget electronica, soft bedroom pop, folk-punk, and even a little hip-hop, stretching Droll’s limbs as a producer, percussive polymath, delicate vocalist, and deliberate lyricist.

Your Dog is Droll’s first LP, but she has been floating around the Bay Area scene for almost a decade, quietly recording airy, beatific folk music. Dig into her catalog, and you’ll find tiny wellsprings of plaintive plainsongs and careful harmonies. Rather than conjuring closeness, the production of her lo-fi bedroom pop has often imparted a sense of depth. On the 2017 EP Photograph, fingerpicked guitars drift in the distance while melodies linger like mere suggestions.

Not so on Your Dog, which begins with a guttural incantation—full-bodied and low, somewhere between a sigh and a shout. Though tempered by sparse xylophone hits and lolling guitars, her holler is an immediate break with her once-hushed coos. She continues to shapeshift, playing the parts of a savvy poet and a scorned seductress. On “Hush,” a whisper-sung cypher cuts short a pitch-shifted rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” The song twists around Droll’s verses, her gliding cadence and breezy tone suggesting a cross between Norah Jones and Digable Planets. There’s surprising rap battle bravado here, too: “So baby when you gonna give a fuck? It doesn’t cut it to rely on luck.” Just as you’ve caught up with her lyrical hopscotch, though, the beat disappears, revealing another child’s tune, “Ring Around the Rosie.”

If her previous releases were wistful, they were at least sonically linear. But this record sees her playing with the predictable patterns of songwriting. On “Boy Bruise,” spoken-word bits, staccato shouts, and magnetic chants nest between the lyrics, bursting out momentarily as though coming from a music box. Not every experiment with form is so successful. “Cat June” drags as it pits sheepish declarations against painfully slow raps. But when it works, like on the neo-R&B track “Fat Duck,” Droll is an electrifying shape-shifter—bratty one moment and sweet the next, reminiscent of Miya Folick’s frenzied energy.

Droll’s emphasis on rhyming at all costs sometimes creates the effect of simplistic campfire sing-alongs. During “Riddle,” she begins, “I had a hell of a time making these memories of mine/Fit like a fiddle into just another riddle of mine.” It is tidy to the point of being empty, the syllables coming off more like a nursery rhyme than a nostalgic reflection. She relies too much on rap-whispered affectations, too, something the singing, scatting, and shouting of singles like “Boy Bruise” and “Hush” reinforce. Still, at her best, her writing feels like that of an older sister or ex-lover—worn-in, intimate, direct. “I know you keep the bath lit to dull all of your senses,” she starts slowly on “Fat Duck” before cutting to the point. “But now is not the time to sit with a joint lit/Shitting little bricks over the small stuff.”

It’s tempting to call Your Dog breezy, but that diminishes the anxieties Droll expresses, reducing her to the sum of her mostly acoustic past. Droll has slowly moved away from the folk that once defined her; on Your Dog, she actively seeks new spaces. This is an artifact of self-discovery, then, one that often defies expectations of how a singer like Droll should sound.

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