Common Holly

When I Say to You Black Lightning

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The follow-up to 2017's Playing House, When I Say to You Black Lightning is the Barsuk label debut of Montreal-based musician Brigitte Naggar, who records as Common Holly. With assistance from returning co-producer Devon Bate, she continues to blur and fuse distinctions between catchy and experimental, and song and composition here, settling into a presentation that's entirely digestible, if persistently peculiar. Seeming to follow the example of her gentle, wispy vocal delivery, the mostly soft-footed tracks are remarkably delicate and detailed, like a fully arranged equivalent to wind chimes as opposed to cathedral bells or vibraphone. Though the songs are quiet, they hold turbulent moments, such as in "Joshua Snakes," which opens with a few seconds of finely textured noise before settling into a whispery funk groove. The rhythmic, rhyming vocal lines are routinely accosted by samples, sound effects, and instrumental interjections that never throw off the singer or her spare accompaniment (bass, snare, intermittent guitar). Midway through, a simple, staccato distorted-guitar break sounds thunderous in comparison to what preceded it. The guitar hangs around for the rest of the song with the rhythm section, layered vocals, and...flute. Though other entries tend toward the more atmospheric, each holds these kinds of unexpected timbral contrasts, which, along with lilting, chromatic melodies and shifting arrangements, make for an unusually suspenseful listen. When I Say to You Black Lightning closes with two memorably unsettling anthems, "It's Not Real" ("if I forget it") and the tuneful "Crazy OK." The latter wraps up an exquisite album with a thematically unstable explosion of grungy guitar that drops out at the last moment to expose a final "Don't leave me/I'm crazy/OK" and an unresolved acoustic-guitar progression. Artful, spooky, and fascinating, When I Say to You Black Lightning's beguiling contradictions are likely to compel repeat listens.

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