Album Review: Land of Talk – Indistinct Conversations

[Saddle Creek; 2020]

Over a decade-and-a-half long career, Lizzie Powell’s cool, crystalline croon has anchored Land of Talk’s sound even as they’ve run the gamut from jagged post-punk (“Speak to Me Bones”), to heart-wrenching ballads (“It’s Okay”, “Troubled”), to fist-pumping anthems (“Color Me Badd”). They’re a band who can literally ‘do it all’, but their bread and butter is a slow-burning intensity and emotional intimacy that reveals more of itself on repeat listens, and they deploy it brilliantly on Indistinct Conversations.

Opener “Diaphanous” begins the album on a tender note with fluttering woodwinds introducing Powell’s guitar and Bucky Wheaton’s drums . After one verse, Powell sings “Yeah, I know, not enough / I was caught up in the wrong stuff / but I have to ask” – and then the low end kicks in. Chris McCarron’s bass is turned up, the wind section returns, and it’s such a gorgeous tapestry of sounds that by the time Powell asks “Did I win you over?” she already has.

Elsewhere, lead single “Weight of That Weekend” – a somber song about looking back on an abusive relationship and recontextualizing the past in new terms – revisits the mid-tempo rock of “Some are Lakes” and turns it into a lush, majestic anthem for healing and a “prayer for love.” Meanwhile, “A/B Futures” is an outright rocker like something off of Applause Cheer Boo Hiss where Powell gets in some well-earned shredding, enough to warrant a post-shred come-down in the form of the tear-jerking acoustic ballad “Festivals”.

The strongest points of Indistinct Conversations lie in the trio’s strength not only as an ensemble, but also as a recording and production team. McCarron’s bass is a welcome presence in the mix, providing rich countermelodies to Powell’s vocal and guitar. The band’s production flourishes are subtle, enriching the music without distracting from it; small clouds of guitar noise to adorn the high end while the imposing second verse of “Look to You” struts beneath, the shimmering synths in the pre-chorus of mid-album stunner “Love in 2 Stages”.

The last voice you hear on Indistinct Conversations is not Lizzie Powell’s – in fact, her voice is nowhere to be heard on the titular closing track. True to its name, “Indistinct Conversations” consists of snippets of pre-recorded conversations, ripped from context and left to drift between one another over an ostinato of guitar and drums. Midway through, the pattern drops out and an eerie organ enters briefly before reintroducing the guitar and drum; tt’s the same pattern as before, just recontextualized. A final gorgeous, understated moment to close out a record full of them. Even without Powell’s signature voice, it sounds like Land of Talk and no one else.