I Want the Door to Open

Lala Lala

(CD - Hardly Art #132)

Review by Marcy Donelson

By the time she recorded her third Lala Lala album, Chicago-based musician Lillie West had already transformed the grungy, lo-fi rawness of her first album, Sleepyhead, into something hookier and less cluttered but still rooted in alt-rock inspirations on the follow-up, The Lamb. At the same time, intimate lyrics on both albums grappled with personal traumas, recovery, and setbacks. On I Want the Door to Open, West adopts a more distanced, philosophical point of view on a recording that polishes, colorizes, and amplifies many of its textures. Co-produced by West and Yoni Wolf of Why?, the album further broadens its scope through the inclusion of guests such as Ohmme, Landlady's Adam Schatz, and singer/songwriter Christian Lee Hutson, among others. One of the record's highlights arrives late in the track list in the form of a tranquil, palate-cleansing duet with none other than Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard. His rich, rounded vocal tone stands in sharp contrast to West's fragile, whispery one as they reminisce about flawed past encounters. Piano, muted acoustic strums, and hushed atmospheres including ghostly vocals are among their accompaniment. Most of the rest of the album -- at least after a mix of creaking noises, woodwinds, keys, and bass set an otherworldly scene on lead-in "Lava" -- adds sleeker, bolder components, as on pulsing dark-pop entry "Color of the Pool," though acoustic textures remain in play. Elsewhere, West pushes her vocals toward previously unattempted balcony rows on the rousing "DIVER," and the more wistful "Straight & Narrow" emphasizes low drums and atmospheric deep bass as well as twinkling melodic percussion, chiming guitars, and strings at different points in the song. (That track features songwriter and 2019 National Youth Poet Laureate Kara Jackson.) An album partly inspired by The Myth of Sisyphus and the idea of perseverance ("I want to fall in love with the rock"), it never achieves shiny pop elation, but it does let some of that brightness in. While I Want the Door to Open is likely to both alienate some fans of Lala Lala's rawer early material and capture the attention of new ones, taken on its own, it feels like a deliberately unsettled middle ground.

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