At least twice a day, I hear someone complain about the state of modern music, often shaped by their belief that the music made when they were teenagers was “the golden era” of pop or rock, or music as a whole. What’s both sad and funny about that complaint is that I see it from people in their 60’s and 70’s and hear it repeated almost word for word by people in the 30’s and 40’s, the only difference being the names of the bands they describe uncritically as the “best there ever was.” The truth is, and likely always has been, that in every generation there’s a lot of light-weight pop albums being generated to mollify the masses, and there have often been real artists creating relevant, meaningful, musical art on the margins, it just often fell easily into your cultural orbit when you were young. As you get older, there’s still likely great pop and rock music being made out there somewhere, it just isn’t likely to be embraced by a mass audience so you may have to look a bit harder to find it. But when you come across a pop album like Indigo De Souza’s sophomore album, you are quickly rewarded for your effort.
De Souza has a natural pop voice, and with producer Brad Cook (Waxahatchee, Bon Iver, War On Drugs), has created a pop rock album that elevates the contemporary form by assuming the music can carry the weight of honest emotional expression. Several tracks deal the dark feelings of loss that often accompany the end of a relationship, when people don’t know how they are to go on in life, they often speak of death as De Souza does in “Darker Then Death,” “Kill Me,” and “Die/Cry,” where she balances these feelings sonically with her guitars, but finds a tasty melody sturdy enough to handle the emotional weight. “Pretty Pictures” can hide a dysfunctional relationship where parting will likely be “for the better,” and “Bad Dreams” and insomnia can leave one screaming into the night, “Please. Send. Help. To me.” Throughout the record, De Souza gives voice to the wide spectrum of emotions that come and go in a break-up and one’s emotional recovery, but in “Real Pain,” the pretty pop melody is interrupted by crowd sourced screams to capture a reality beyond easy expression.
But all is not grief and despair here, and even when dealing with those darker emotions, De Souza never loses her sense of self, she merely feels the feeling and accepts that they are part of the process, part of what it means to be fully alive. In “17,” she turns Auto-tune into an instrument of expression, to suggest the innocence and perhaps naïve hopefulness of youth. A technology we think of as a way for an inferior singer to repair a lousy performance in the mix, becomes an artful tool in the hands of this strong and capable singer. It shows up here and there in the album, but most noticeably in the dance single, “Hold U,” where a video provides an expansive vision of inclusive loving acceptance, and the promise that “it’s gonna be alright.”
In the jangly guitar pop of “Way Out,” De Souza comes to terms with the fact that change is a necessary part of life, we all are going to evolve over time. What we need is not one that loves us only as we are, or as we were, but rather someone who can say “I’ll be here to love you/no matter what shape you take,” as we evolve, change, and grow. Turns out “There’s nothing in the dark/There are no monsters under your bed,” if only you can reach the point where “I wanna be, I wanna be a light.” Here in times when there appears to be lots of hysteria, people screaming in the darkness of their own creation, Indigo De Souza models a way of dealing with reality, facing the darkness, and going through the difficult emotions only to arrive in the light and hope on the other side, where there’s someone who is sure to “Hold U.” Any Shape You Take is a pop/rock album that artfully pushes the envelope and takes the so-called commercial art form to the place where it becomes exactly what this current moment needs. Imagine, pop music that still matters.
Key Tracks: “Hold U” / “Kill Me” / “Pretty Pictures”
Artists With Similar Fire: Soccer Mommy / Waxahatchee / Angel Olsen
-Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb