Album Review: Katie Dey – ‘never falter again hero girl’

Any watcher of the show Hoarders knows that there are two inevitabilities in each episode. One, you will see a person with towers of impossibly old everyday objects; two, the show’s resident expert will ask the subject, “Have you ever considered that you are keeping these objects as a replacement for the people around you?”

Katie Dey’s song ‘hoarder’ uses this idea of objects-as-people as a metaphorical device. “I keep finding new things wrong with me/I’m an old house built by the sea,” she intones over a bed of swelling saxophones and a lilting triple-time beat. Later on, in the euphoric chorus, she wonders aloud, “what would you keep if you were my hoarder?” It’s a line that cuts to the heart of her new album never falter hero girl. What are the elements that make up a person? And how do we accept the parts of ourselves, and others, that are hard to face?

‘dawn service’ finds Dey reflecting, in her words, “on a time in my reckless youth, going to the ANZAC day dawn service in a small conservative town in Australia where I grew up (while on a lot of drugs) and deciding, in a small brief way, to assert who I am in the face of a society that values radically different things than I do.” It’s a song that is equal parts personal and political, critiquing the dominant (and war-obsessed) conservative elements of Australian culture (“let’s go to the dawn service/bet it’s filled with perverts”) while celebrating the boldness of her past self. The lyrical themes are reflected in the instrumental with militaristic brass and snare hits disrupted by a blast of distorted bass synth and, despite everything, the song feels triumphant, like a musical act of protest.

Things take a turn sonically on the gorgeous ‘dance butterflies’ with electronics replaced by acoustic elements. The densely orchestrated group of strings, saxophones and piano swell and build in a way that recalls an ensemble of people improvising in a room together—a true tribute to Dey’s skills as an instrumentalist and arranger.

never falter hero girl by katie dey

Dey is able to craft songs that are both musically satisfying and feel unified with their lyrical content. The queasy imagery, for instance, on the verses of ‘face first’ (“I feel psychedelically gross/Worms crawling out of my nose”) is enhanced by the unsettling chord progression behind it. The hopeful ascension of Dey’s vocal melody in the chorus, as the bassline descends lower and lower, highlight the contradictions in the lyrics (“I’m in hell but it’s a gift”) while painting an image of a protagonist attempting to escape an emotional low point.

On ‘open book’, when Dey uses the imagery of faulty technology in the opening verse (“my red wire/ready to be cut”), it feels almost like foreshadowing for the gradual descent into chaotic noise that finishes the song. The unison chorus becomes increasingly distorted, to the point that the vocals almost ressemble the connecting sound effects of a dial up internet connection. It shifts up a tone and then, without warning, the sonic fabric holding the music together rips in two. It’s a thrilling and gleeful moment, difficult to describe in text, that underscores what makes Dey’s music exciting.

The other notable shift to pure noise occurs in the title track, ‘never falter hero girl’. The song is pop maximalism at its finest, with extreme feelings and extreme musical choices going hand-in-hand. As the tension ratchets up, Dey urgently sings “I wanna live my life but there’s no time for that/never falter hero girl”. The word “girl” is screamed before a densely synthesised blast of white noise starts. It’s as if singing as a mode and the twelve existing musical tones aren’t enough to truly convey the feeling of those words. When the limits of musical possibilities given to us by our instruments and our voices fail, it makes sense to push the boundaries of what is possible, to find the expressive faults in our broken technology. White noise by its definition is every frequency being played at once. It’s hard to think of a better way of capturing the sound of someone putting their whole heart into the words they’ve written and meaning every syllable.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

never falter again hero girl is out now.

Fenn Idle | @fenniscool

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