Though mainstream pop music is as strong as it’s ever been, with fantastic new releases by the likes of Carly Rae Jepsen and Katy Perry, the stranger side of the genre has also recently gained traction. With artists like JPEGMAFIA and Rico Nasty blending hip-hop and punk, there is no doubt that the pop landscape is wider and more sonically diverse than ever before. And though the synths of the ‘80s or the screams of the ‘70s feel comfortable and classic, this nostalgia hides the stress of growing older in an increasingly precarious world. Australian singer Katie Dey feels this stress explicitly. Her latest album Solipsisters speaks to dispelling the illusions that keep us from growing and the difficulty of living in the trouble of today.
Dey has always made music off the beaten path. Her 2016 album Flood Network explodes with short but frantic songs, with Dey’s voice pushed to the limits of understanding. A lyrical fragility becomes apparent in these songs, as the distortion in her voice often makes it impossible to discern her words. But that desire to be heard despite the synthy buzz around her brings music back to its primal roots. It’s a yearning to go beyond speech and imbue vocals with a poetic aura that’s more emotionally charged than any language could be.
On the whole, Dey’s music names the very real void that surrounds us today. Her songs bridge the gap between electronic and organic, often mixing her voice into the synths until they undulate in unison. With Solipsisters, her songs have become much more symphonic, waxing and waning in classical tones that bring a refreshing focus to the usual chaotic sound Dey puts out.
Dey’s trademark fragmented and scattered sound becomes united into a more sonorous whole — without losing any of its gorgeous precarity. It’s beautifully haunting, with distorted vocals and off-kilter builds that bring (Sandy) Alex G and Björk to mind. Now that her lyrics are more comprehensible than in past releases, Dey sings with a care for making every word matter.
The opening track, “Waves,” builds slowly and deliberately. While the wall of sound occasionally falters, losing itself in a noisy fuzz, it always triumphantly returns with her voice reaching brilliant heights. Songs like “Stuck” feel refreshingly clear in ways that Dey has never been before, with the twangy strings providing some levity to a song that reflects the dysphoric dilemma of living in a body. “Reflection” is a swooning ballad that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Julee Cruise album.
The songs are polished in a way that’s unprecedented for Dey. It’s incredibly exciting to see her work on a grander scale. On Solipsisters, her musical ability can be blown up to the proportions that can carry the emotional gravity her voice brings.
The lyricism on Solipsisters also brings a much-needed clarity, with Dey exploring the more uncomfortable and alien sense of being alive. In “Solipsisting,” she sings, “Abandon your shell, move with your light / Undying flight, unravel in infinity / With me.” It’s a sentiment that feels both generally romantic and intensely personal, serving as a call to transcend the limits imposed on us as individuals and as communities.
And in “Waves,” she sings, “Those things clogging up your drain / That you let your soul run through / The things that cause you so much pain / The things I love about you.” This is exactly the cruel optimism that affects our current way of life and perhaps has always affected our way of life. Dey desires and actualizes the ever-present feeling that there could be something more.