Carla J Easton
(Olive Grove Records)
Out 5 October 2018
CD / LP (limited duck egg-blue)
Easton travels west to find her fire.
During a time when commentary of Scotland’s pop music heritage is firmly prevalent, including the BBC4 mini-documentary series Smashing Hits! The 80s Pop Map of Britain and Northern Ireland and broadcaster Vic Galloway’s Rip It Up exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, the spotlight has never twinkled brighter on what the contemporary scene up north has to offer.
Fresh from a singer-songwriter residency in Canada, TeenCanteen and Ette frontwoman Carla J Easton returns to her homeland with her new album Impossible Stuff, the first record to appear under her own name.
Romance and broken-heartedness in its rawest, everyday form entwine to become the cornerstones of Easton’s message; cherubic dreamcatchers in the purest, blue-eyed chamber of the heart. Layered vocals, doleful cello and sombre piano organs feature on transient opener Dreamers On The Run, awash in lamenting lyrics such as “Honeyed the hurt that was caused / burnt every bridge that we made”.
Title-track Impossible Stuff is much more playful with its kittenish keys and impish lyrics. What is intriguing is the angular pandemonium being fabricated through the track, venturing into Polyphonic Spree/Flaming Lips territory. This involves an engaging babel and snowballing sound bubbling in a cauldron of music while its white witches’ romanticised, uplifting vocal yearns for “Impossible stuff just to feel your love, I’ll do anything for you”.
Employing Arcade Fire producer Howard Bilerman is an inspired choice on Lights In The Dark. A polished electronic-fuelled, clubby single with analogue synthworms ploughing through the headphones into the ears. Easton’s love-hate focus on the small things remains prevalent, referencing “stacked dishes” and “our house is not a home”, and the quixotic direction of the track does not deter from the starry-eyed beliefs of the record.
Songs such as the swooning Meet Me In Paris with its modulated birdsong soundbites, and Milk And Honey both show a little of the primary Easton-sound produced on earlier works with unadulterated pop purity and simple melodies. Mid-album track Never Had The Words paints soundscapes with tempered organs and layered vocals drawing a truly emotive piece filled with frustrated couplets about “syllables leaking into the night”. It is a minimal composition compared to a number of the others present on Impossible Stuff, but a bewitching, Kate Bush-ilk piece of music which almost catches the listener off-guard.
Bilerman’s production on second single Wanting What I Can’t Have again draws out the groove in Easton’s keys-led songs, adding a necessary sensuous and suggestive vibe to proceedings. If there was any element of vulnerability visible lyrically on the Impossible Stuff record, then the disposable love sashay on this track reimagined by Easton’s own confident “Oh-oh-oh-oh” delivery blows that notion out the water with all the gulping of a mermaid needing fresh air. Song-writing just grew wings.
Like a Scottish Minogue, the breathy cabaret of Girl From Before generates a Celtic jazz element. Lines such as “Girls take a sip, cross their hearts with their hips”, and a string-led number tiptoes dangerously into Kylie’s Santa Baby territory. Contrary, penultimate song Vagabond is a suspicious, 80s Bryan Ferry-synth styled ballad about break-up. Four-word lines and tainted couplets (“Let’s skip the bus, let’s take a walk / You’re just running away, just stay with me”) float over a gorgeous lo-fi melody. Easton’s maturing sound is as intoxicating as much as it is wounded, and if the best songs are ones about affliction then consider the Carluke-born musician to have the future of all things heartsick sewn up.
With a song titled Lullaby, it was never going to be a metal mosh to conclude Impossible Stuff. Further bird sounds harmonise with Easton’s gentle wolf-howl prior to pianos, trumpets, synth, keyboards, and drums marching the listener towards their twilight slumber.
If Easton is intending on being the voice of dreamers, then the timbre of Impossible Stuff, coupled with a utopian dogma, stands her in good stead. This is essential indie pop. An indulgence for the fantasists and a cue to believe that nothing is impossible if you want it enough.
Find out more about Carla J Easton at her website