The eerie and horrific intimacy and numbness of post-trauma mixed sung as lullabies.
Kathryn Joseph’s third album sees her switch out the piano for an electric keyboard. She strips back everything to make this her most intimate and direct album to date It is her keyboard and her voice and together they channel an 11 track song cycle on survivors of abuse. It is one of the rawest albums I’ve come across in recent years and spoke to me as a survivor too.
Everyone’s emotional rollercoaster is unique when you’ve suffered abuse. Kathryn goes through spite, rage, anger, brute force soldiering on and eventually, pulling some resolution and moving clear of the abuse. It is an album that wrestles with the fact that abuse utterly changes you as a person – a before and after moment in your life. Separating yourself from it is difficult and the album’s later tracks focus on bringing distance between yourself and the events. You are not the abuse alone but it does change your personal landscape. You’ll never be the same but you also want to take back control on your own terms. That’s how I’ve felt over the 30 years since childhood sexual abuse anyway and I recognise part of my journey in this album.
Kathryn Joseph has made the album sound like a lullaby with her soft electric piano. Most of the tracks, like most of Kathryn’s repertoire, are short riffs that repeat quickly to provide a growing sense of emotional burden and drama. It’s in the build-up that the souls are slain and that songwriting style remains. This time around the build-up is just as often a cathartic letting go though. A higher register hum, a lightly dualled vocal that just hits differently or, on the flip side, a powerful resonating low note hit three times harder than anything else. Whilst I adore the piano, this Rhodes style keyboard allows a dreamy music box quality that brings a safe eeriness to the whole affair. It is also one of the most audibly expressive keyboards in alternative music outside Tori Amos. If you can make it through “only the sound of the sea will save them” without feeling moved, I’m not sure this site will give you any musical recommendations that will click at all. I bawled.
Whilst the album is entirely keyboard and voice, there are some really nifty production tricks. “how well you are” has a distant washed out reverb behind the keyboard that sounds gorgeous. “What is keeping you alive makes me want to kill them” has bass notes that sound like a kick drum heartbeat. Kathryn’s voice is also softer than in previous albums and her lyrical delivery is clearer too. She often mocks her own voice but it is in her imperfections that her character is born. Vocal cracks hint at emotional wells overflowing and this time around, her hushed tone draws you in like a mystic.
Put simply, this album is already my album of the year to date. Part of that is down to its subject matter, granted. However, Kathryn Joseph tells stories, weaves melodies and wears her emotions like no one else in the music industry does. The cathartic nature of this album will be a comfort as well as a haunting to many and its hypnotic dreamy instrumentation and production feel like a personal meditation on survival. On the title track, the final minute includes a backing vocal track that reminds the listener that you’ve survived. As all the other noise and vocal tracks peel away, you are left with the solitary vocal “you survived”. This moment will stay with me for a long time as it helped a penny drop in my brain too. Powerful.
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