Album Review: Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take

[Saddle Creek; 2021]

Death has always been a fact of life for Indigo De Souza. The Asheville-based Brazilian-American songwriter grew up in a house that didn’t shy away from the harsh realities; her mother, a visual artist, would create psychedelic works (as seen on the covers of both of De Souza’s albums), and would visually and vocally protest the USA’s horrific military destruction overseas. It’s no wonder De Souza grew up with a matter-of-fact view of mortality, and that she started her debut album I Love My Mom with a song called “How I Get Myself Killed” and concludes her latest, Any Shape You Take, with a song called “Kill Me” (with stops at songs called “Darker Than Death”, “Die/Cry” and “Real Pain” along the way). 

This casual attitude to the ‘big’ question translates to other topics, particularly depression, sexuality and relationships, which she brings to the fore in such an unguarded manner that it might be off putting to some (“fuck me till my brains start dripping down to the second floor in our home,” she sings in “Kill Me”, which was selected as the lead single). But this is a pure display of her personality; a reflection of the liberal, provocative and inspiring surroundings in which she was raised and the way in which she now continues to live. For that, it will undoubtedly and rightfully earn her countless devotees. 

It also means that she can liberally use death and sex as tools to reach towards more wholesome and healing truths. With a grip on mortality and a freshly-healed broken heart, she approaches Any Shape You Take with a newfound appreciation for now, for making the most of the moment and for appreciating loved ones for who they are today. 

To aid in approaching this more nuanced and poignant realm, she has expanded her sonic palette. While her earliest releases, from her late teens, found her sometimes dabbling in R&B-esque tones, I Love My Mom stayed firmly in the indie rock realm – but she relaxes into many styles on Any Shape You Take. This becomes eminently clear on the opening track “17”, a pastel-hued synth-pop jam that evokes the intimacy of a bedroom conversation where she softly tells an old friend “darling if you need me I’ll be right here.” As a test of the album’s sonic elasticity, she veers into atmospheric indie for the following “Darker Than Death” and then brash pop-punk for “Die/Cry”.

What doesn’t change, no matter the style, is De Souza’s huge heart and dedication to others. The majority of the songs on Any Shape You Take deal with interpersonal relationships, both romantic and non – or ambiguously in the grey area. Sometimes she puts it as bluntly as “I’d rather die than see you cry,” a simple message that is launched as the unstoppable mortar of a chorus in “Die/Cry”. Stand-out track “Hold U” boils the idea of friendship, community and loyalty to a few simple slogans (“you are a good thing”, “I will hold you”, “I’m not the only body”) and pairs them with infectiously danceable indie pop that blows them up into neon lights. Sometimes it’s a bit more complex, as on the gliding pop pearl “Pretty Pictures”, where she details an on-again-off-again relationship and comes to the heartbreaking conclusion that she has to split with her loved one, “‘cause you know it’s gonna be for the better, but it’s so hard to give it up.” 

When she turns the focus on herself, the results can be even more visceral. “Real Pain” makes good on its title, pairing De Souza’s quivering vocal with a thorny rock sound, a breakdown filled with howls and yells sent in by her fans, and her simply stating “I wanna kick wanna scream / I wanna know it’s not my fault” – there’s absolutely no icing on this cake, and it’s all the better for it. Similarly, on the following “Bad Dream”, she wakes in the middle of the night, terrified, and translates that fearsome nightmare into cathartic rock through tumultuous peaks and troughs of electrifying playing and a vocal that glides from gritty growl to operatic falsetto. The rambunctious “Way Out” unfolds in two halves, starting with De Souza drawling about escaping her ghosts and emotions, but she then flips the script to her selfless side, the song smoothing out into a sailing indie jam as she professes “I’ll be here to love you, no matter what shape you might take.” 

It’s this open-heartedness that shines through Any Shape You Take. There may be death, depression, heartbreak, sex, screams and swearing throughout, but they are momentary – what remains is De Souza’s tenderness and truthfulness. As she continues to embolden her songwriting, takes up more space, and earns a legion of fans, the results can only be positive for her and everyone around her.