Album Review: Molly Burch – Romantic Images

[Captured Tracks; 2021]

“Drop everything you’re doing, I want you to sit down and listen to my words,” Molly Burch declares on the sultry “Romantic Images”, the title track of her new album. The song splits the difference between Angel Olsen’s yearning theatrics on All Mirrors and the hushed electro-pop of Lorde; her words, meanwhile, sung over a quiet pulse and faraway drums, work as a thesis to an album that’s all about control. Yet, importantly, her delivery insinuates a specific kind of control: confidence.

Produced by Alaina Moore and Pat Riley of Tennis, Romantic Images is an impeccably crafted and confident collection of songs that marks a turning point for the Austin-based musician. Those familiar with Burch’s previous work will notice her unequivocal leap into dream and chamber pop on this outing; her previous work, such as 2018 album First Flower, occupied a space between the polished rock arrangements of Kevin Morby and the hazy surf-rock atmospherics of bands like La Luz. Nevertheless, she sounds just as at home in this new musical territory; on “Easy”, for example, her sweet fluttering effortlessly delivers the titular word over a bed of quiet keys and mid-tempo drumming.

Burch turned to a host of established collaborators for Romantic Images; the record was mixed and mastered by Gloria Kaba, Mikaelin ‘Blue’ Bluespruce, and Heba Kadry, who’ve worked with artists including Lauryn Hill, Mariah Carey, and Björk, respectively. This input helps flesh out the album with unexpected turns that feel entirely appropriate. The single “Emotion” features indie dream-pop mainstay Wild Nothing; though the song’s grooves may remind listeners more of Toro Y Moi, as it effectively evokes the exhilaration that comes with unfettered positive emotion. While guitarist Dailey Toliver’s glistening solo on album highlight “Honeymoon Phase” accomplishes something similar, the lack of guitar-centric spotlights elsewhere on the album makes this moment particularly enjoyable.

To be clear, Burch doesn’t take her confidence for granted; if anything, Romantic Images is as much a declaration of her place today as a dedication to the self-examination that got her there. “But when I’m honest with myself I look so clueless,” she sings on the indie-pop gem “Games”, a testament to how watching love unfold on TV gives little instruction in our real lives. Burch tips into full-blown insecurity on “Heart of Gold”, where she lets her mind wander over what’s happened to her former lover; “All I ever wanted was your love, I treat it like my job / Tell me can we make it right, I’m running out of time”. Forget confidence, emotions like these can shake people to their core.

Nevertheless, the album’s dreamlike aesthetics serve as a reflection of Burch’s refusal to let her self-doubt dampen her spirits. Her sweet delivery on tracks like “Games” alleviates what could be some truly ugly thoughts one could tell themselves. The guitar plucks and thumping drums on “Heart of Gold” assure listeners that the singer’s insecurity is something she’s worked on and can now approach with more perspective. This is another key appeal of Romantic Images: She never wallows in her past mistakes. “But I want to love you right not like the last guy,” she admits on opening track “Control”. Like the best of us, Burch owns her flaws.

Burch also isn’t afraid to own her successes, such as on the “Took A Minute”, a breezy song with mellow grooves that are punctuated by teasing guitar riffs. “This is me trying to write you a love song / this is my love song to ya baby,” she sings on the chorus. She’s carrying the weight of her experiences on her shoulders, but that’s not stopping her from enjoying the thrill of a new crush. She’s confident enough in herself to make the most of this, and every, moment.