Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Every day I live and I die a little/ I rise and I fall, evolve and dissolve,” sings Trixie Whitley on the closing song of her first collection of original music in three years. Anyone following the singer-songwriter’s eclectic career as a genre pushing artist whose only consistent quality is her restlessness will understand the honesty behind that statement. She remains true to her ever-evolving vision on the unusual and relentlessly innovative Lacuna.
For album number three, Whitley joins forces with multi-instrumentalist/producer Little Shalimar, best known for his work with hip-hop duo Run The Jewels. He places her driving voice and poetic, occasionally confrontational, always provocative lyrics over bubbling, frequently caffeinated synthesized backing (he’s credited with “bleeps, bloops, bangs and whizzes”) which infuses further anxiety into her songs. In the thumping “Heartbeat,” she sings, “Where has your focus been/ Oh just feeding my every sin.” In that example and others, Lacuna (the word means a blank space or missing part) feels like a bleak, ill-fated breakup, reflective treatise, at least in parts like “Dare to Imagine,” with the lyrics “I project my reflections onto the man … I can’t blame him when he won’t go there with me.”
Whitley is an uncompromising artist who goes “Fishing For Stars,” as she names a song with a combination of the experimentalism of Laurie Anderson or Kate Bush. Another tune, “Dandy,” kicks off with an explosive avant-garde tenor sax solo which bursts out of the speakers like a bolt of lightning. It sets the stage for a vibrating, synthesized backbeat where Whitley double tracks her voice on the chorus. After asking “are these the signs of our times?”, she spits out a machine gun-styled barrage of names like “the racist, the humanist, the realist, the rapist,” etc. with coiled-snake resolve. Even the quieter moments are gripping with a combination of ominous music and Whitley’s expressive lyrics, and an edgy, often jazzy approach that reflects anger, along with a jittery sense of frustration with the status quo.
Her remarkably soulful voice adds warmth to the synth backing that can sound chilly and brittle on songs such as “Touch.” Perhaps her music is best exemplified by the video for “Long Time Coming” (watch below), one of three similarly conceptual, evocative pieces created for this album’s music. The crisp black-and-white palette and the stimulating interpretive dance reflect the music’s overall discomforting vibe. Better still, the chorus has a hook you’ll remember long after the song has ended.
None of this is easy to digest, but that’s the point. Trixie Whitley is, and has always been, about pushing buttons and boundaries, making you think while absorbing and balancing her artistic prowess. It’s part of a career that’s a marathon, not a sprint. The absorbing, challenging, sometimes even abrasive but always involving Lacuna is another mile-marker on it you’ll not soon forget.