Album Review: Katy Kirby – Blue Raspberry

[ANTI-; 2024]

2021’s Cool Dry Place introduced Katy Kirby to the world as one of the most refreshing voices of the singer-songwriter kind. Her actual voice was or will never be mistaken as new and novel, but her precisely pained reflections, carried by her calming coo, separated her as a cut above the rest. Her words are intimately poetic but big in emotion, even when delivered in her signature placative manner. On her latest effort, Blue Raspberry, she leans into the impressionability of her lyricism even more, all while going bigger and bolder musically.

In the throes of faith deconstruction, Cool Dry Place saw Kirby open wide with curiosity and wonder as she observed the world through a new lens unobstructed by puritanical dogma. The coffee tasted different, the air felt different, and relationships — good or bad — took on new meaning. Her musings on these connections were undoubtedly charming with her evergreen receptiveness, but they were delivered with a vagueness, unraveled in broad strokes that ultimately kept listeners at arm’s length.

In all fairness to the young artist, this distance is only natural — how can anyone divulge and fully articulate intimacy when the most cosmic questions are swirling torrentially in both the head and heart? So even though Cool Dry Place lacked the high-stakes vulnerability that is almost a necessity with music cut from the singer-songwriter mold, Blue Raspberry finds Kirby on the other side of bright-eyed existentialism, letting her guard down to reveal a new wrinkle or two to build deeper bonds. She’s re-asking the same big-picture questions introduced in her debut, but now with a precision fraught with who she is rather than reconciling something she may have been. Kirby is drawing near.

Where Cool Dry Place saw Kirby wrestle with and shed indoctrinated beliefs, at least loosely, for the sake of belonging and seeing the forest for the trees, Blue Raspberry moves gracefully toward acceptance; it’s a bracing statement —formation through realization — of Kirby coming into her queer identity.

“Why wouldn’t that be enough?” Kirby repeatedly asks throughout Blue Raspberry. This question culminates in near desperation on the heartbreaking “Salt Crystal”, reinforcing a longing for something good and true that has persisted since we last heard from the Texas-born artist. The insecurities and unfamiliarity of new love trace the tender interior of Kirby’s latest, and this is the most relatable she has ever been. She is as blunt as can be in expressing uncertainty — her candor and wryness are what make her so affecting as a lyricist.

Still, Kirby, a painter of words above everything, also offers these gorgeous metaphors, rendering discomfort and doubt a bit sweeter, as if to bring to light such weariness overwhelming her own coming-of-age story. The unnatural flavor of blue raspberry, the pseudo-brilliance of synthetic diamonds, or even the mere act of putting sugar in your coffee — they’re all imitations, a facsimile of the real things. But they’re still good and beautiful, Kirby is saying, and so is the pursuit of love in and of itself, despite the apprehension and self-doubt that may arise.

To accent the conflicted heaviness of heartbreak and the reticence to love deeply, her bandmates and the record’s producers, Alberto Sewald and Logan Chung, see to it that Kirby’s latest collection of heartfelt meditations isn’t just another muted indie soft rock offering. Blue Raspberry is replete with animated baroque pop flourishes and the spatial awareness needed to help facilitate the tumultuous feelings of self-discovery, playfulness, and sorrow.

The chamber piano pop of “Redemption Arc”, for instance, stirs back and forth, rising with eagerness, then crashing down with devastation. It has an impressionable sway and simplicity to lend it charm, but with eager strings and other minor orchestral elements bursting from the song’s quaint veneer, it’s clear from the start that Blue Raspberry is not some ho-hum home-spun singer-songwriter project. It’s voluminous and in constant motion, operating with panoramic scope and movement to match even bigger, more complex emotions; that of love and its perceived futility.

Songs like “Hand in Hand” and “Wait and Listen” achieve this effect, too, but through considerable sparseness to allow the tracks’ cathartic peaks to punch with more intensity, whether it be the ambient warmth of humming synths or the subsequent afterglow of yawning bass and reverberating acoustic guitar plucks. Kirby and her band have constructed these songs in such a way that empowers her storytelling with a visceral resonance that justifies the meticulous metaphors and quaint scenes she so strikingly unwinds with her colorful vocal displays.

“He pours a pool of salt in my hand / Showing me how I ought to throw a little bit / Over thе surface like rain / On the wicked and righteous,” Kirby recounts with stunning turn of phrase on album closer, “Table”. Not all her lyrics marry melancholy and sentimentalism; more often Kirby holds sarcasm in the back of her throat. “The going rate for roses is the lowest rate it has been,” Kirby dryly observes on “Drop Dead” but not without puncturing the seeming malaise with a beaten smile, singing, “Let me drop dead gorgeous” throughout the song.

Kirby balances the light and heavy with such perfect poise that listeners will find themselves second-guessing how to feel, too. She hovers between heartache and self-deprecation in the aftermath of heartbreak all across Blue Raspberry, her mood magically moving between the two on a whim. “Happy anniversary, I’m happy as I’ll ever be / And I still wanna make love in this club,” Kirby reflects in jest on “Party of The Century”.

Blue Raspberry is Kirby’s most pointed, honest, and resonant self. There’s heaviness everywhere, and it should be excavated in doses. Still, her voice remains in bloom, providing a levity that yet again makes a Katy Kirby listening experience a comforting one. You might wish there were more stickier moments and earworm choruses to help entrench her poetic sentiments deeper into memory. It’s what made Cool Dry Place so beloved in the long haul; songs like “Tap Twice” and “Peppermint” still ring through my head today. But this doesn’t mean the record is not entirely bereft of memorability or reasons to revisit. If anything, her comforting croons will continue to beckon listeners back, no matter how intensely her words may strike — this is the beautiful balance of Blue Raspberry.