Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
It won’t take long after pushing play on Katie Toupin’s debut album to understand why she left the comfy confines of Houndmouth. After all, as one of a handful of singers in that band, her talents were only intermittently on display when she took the occasional lead vocal. The cliché “lost in the shuffle” seems appropriate when considering Toupin’s tenure in that collective.
This follow-up to her 2018 EP Moroccan Ballroom is a major step forward in Toupin’s career arc. Those five songs paved the way to this full disc (none are included on it), but didn’t totally display the singer-songwriter’s talents. Lyrically Toupin reflects on the vicissitudes of love, laying out her own insecurities in the title track’s “Here’s my heart/my dignity too/take it slowly/like most men do.” While that may not be particularly fresh territory, her way with words is alluring in a poetic, and occasionally direct fashion. She lays open her anxieties and vulnerabilities (“Is it too late to tell you I fucked up the most”) with sometimes alarming honesty, taking full responsibility for what seems to be a checkered romantic history. Song titles such as “Real Love,” “In Your Dreams,” “I Need You,” “Lost Sometimes” and “Bad Love” (the latter is a bonus track) set the conceptual stage.
But it’s Toupin’s distinctive voice, a combination of Amy Winehouse’s slinky soul with the subtle rasp of Rickie Lee Jones, that makes this material fresh and enticing. From the delicate love song “As Good As It Gets” and the charming “The Hills Are Calling” to the sing-along drama of the title cut, “Lost Sometimes” and “Run to You,” Toupin crafts hooky pop with just enough of a Nilsson-styled edge to keep things from getting overly slick. Gone is the scraggly indie Americana associated with Houndmouth, replaced with a far more nuanced and Beatles-esque approach, especially in the boppy “In Your Dreams” and the chiming “I Need You.”
Also impressive is that this is predominantly the work of two people: Toupin, credited with arrangements and as producer along with vocals, and multi-instrumentalist Scott Davis who handles everything else except percussion (from Josh Blue). Along with a few backing vocalists and string players, the overdubbed sound created by Toupin and Scott is full, robust and intricately constructed. Those who don’t get to read liner notes (common in this streaming atmosphere) will think this is the work of a full backing band. Toupin’s voice and songwriting are obviously illuminated but Davis’ accompaniment is just as much a part of the disc’s overall sound and success.
Few of these tunes would have logically slotted into the parameters of Houndmouth. But more importantly, the impressive Magnetic Moves showcases the developed talents of Toupin who, based on this evidence, is clearly ready for her shot in the spotlight.