Molly Sarlé – Karaoke Angel

As one third of Mountain Man Molly Sarlé showed something of what she could do with her voice. Words like ‘heavenly’ or ‘reflective’ get floated around when referencing the artist’s work with that band. These are accurate descriptions, but they can lead the mind to things which are often flighty or light of substance. Fans will know that there are depths and weight to the Mountain Man catalog. They will also know something of the dynamic abilities of Sarlé who contributed to Feist’s live band. However, for all the range and appeal of previous enterprises, few things will have prepared audiences for the work revealed on Karaoke Angel, Molly Sarlés debut solo album, released on Partisan Records.

Here is a sequence of songs that shows Sarlé’s breadth of vision. It’s true that Sarlé doesn’t stray from her ethereal, folksy roots, but here there is something in the ‘otherness’ that counters the purely heaven-like. There is a solid, universal perspective to the personal confessional stuff.

Progressions, more often than not, are warm. Instrumental themes can meander, expand and dissolve. Sarlé and producer Sam Evian appear to love space. The minimalist folk of Mountain Man is clearly in the artist’s musical DNA, but here there are layers, complexity, and sometimes an electrical edge that fizzes at the perimeter. Time is afforded for the lungs of a guitar to open, notes are often left suspended. Percussion is there, but it hangs like a structure suspended from above, not built from the ground up. There is nuance, and there are little surprises in the rhythmic patterns. The result is an album where lyrics lift everything, and delivery invites the listener in. Everything is designed to seduce, snare, beguile. And it’s all very effective.

What Sarlé accomplishes with lyrical content feels like the barely edited poetry of a casual genius. Wait. ‘Barely-edited’ doesn’t mean lazy, nor does it mean that Sarlé exorcises her shit with no regard for the listener. This is art not rant. Sarlé simply affords us access to the recesses of an emotion. Her intuitive ability to nail a moment, define a mood, and get into the grit of a relationship, is so well tuned that everything feels like her first and most honest draft. Sarlé is a person with a poetic soul. If you believe in things like souls, and poetry. Of course, you may not have a pulse, in which case this won’t appeal to you.

A track like ‘Suddenly’ is a solid example of what Sarlé does best. In tackling the issue of unrewarding sex, or the pursuit of some kind of prowess she looks to the root of the problem. She is exactly where she wants to be, but is she fully present? Is the disconnection due to her lack of emotional involvement? Is the lack of satisfaction a result of simply posturing and ‘performing’ sex for her partner? The analysis is comic, tragic, human. The bathos of the thing is stunning. All this existential stuff is metered out, but then Sarlé snaps the mood, she goes to make a grilled cheese sandwich. Because what are we if not human, and hungry, and in need of domestic comfort.

‘Human’ is a song that places god into human scale, and elevates the significance of the flesh in the now. It is also a song that feels most like the lynchpin for the sequence. Is there a better karaoke song on the album than this one? A tale of confession, failure, triumph, resilience? “Well, who hasn’t talked to God like he’s a man? / I do it all the time on accident / Sometimes I talk to you that way and I’m sorry baby / ‘Cause it’s me / I leave you with my image and if I ask you to understand.” (Why does this song make me cry with joy, whilst simultaneously inspiring a cross-country road trip to find something bigger than the sky within myself?)

Sarlé strings a narrative through these songs. Constituent parts land like individual sparks of brilliance. The whole radiates with a kind of cultural knowing. Timely and also evergreen, Karaoke Angel extends beyond the now on which it focuses.

With Karoake Angel Molly Sarlé has performed alchemy. She turns personal confession, with tales of sadness and loss, into celebratory passages of the human condition. The deeply intimate is opened for analysis, and it is also employed as a device which connects us to each other. The weakness in one of us honors the weakness in another. The same can be said for strength, and there is a lot of strengths on this album. Femininity is described by example in and of itself, not as light bounced off the masculine. Determination requires no demons to conquer, and self-respect is as much a journey as it is a target.

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