It was Katie Von Schleicher’s 2017 Shitty Hits that introduced me to her world of gritty ballads and sullied pop; a world I was happy to spend a lot of time in. Von Schleicher returns with Consummation which was partly inspired by watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and being struck by a subtext of abuse that she felt had gone largely unanalysed. This narrative resonated with her own life so she decided it would form the basis of this album and help her explore themes of “the pain of being unable to bridge that vast psychic distance between oneself and another”.
Such themes can be difficult to translate into three-minute vignettes, but Katie Von Schleicher has a supreme advantage: she is not afraid to take a conventionally pretty medium and scuff it, rub it with some sandpaper and bend and twist it to see where the stress points are. To me the songs feel like rivers that flow into the whole; some are turbulent and churn up the riverbed, others are bucolic and bask in the affecting light of Von Schleicher’s voice. Songs like ‘You Remind Me’, ‘Messenger’, ‘Nowhere’ and ‘Power’ stretch the membrane of their sound, for example, ‘Messenger’ layers piano and vocal harmonies with bursts of mounting notes over a dirty drum machine beat. Then there are songs like ‘Caged Sleep’, ‘Loud’, ‘Can You Help’, ‘Hammer’ that mix driving beats or loud and soft passages to haunt and cajole our emotions and help us navigate Von Schleicher’s audio landscape.
And then right in the centre of the album is the seemingly incongruous ‘Strangest Thing’. It’s a wafer-thin 1’ 20” slice of 50s easy listening (think Connie Francis or Brenda Lee) complete with a fantastically tremulous choral call and response. The line “I fell just like a child” at the end of song dissipates into a haunting reverb that could echo the theme of falling (fear of, or actual) in Vertigo. From then on the album seems to be polarising the message with tracks like ‘Hammer’, ‘Power’, ‘Gross’ and ‘Brutality’ which mixes low-end electronic notes with harp and prickly guitar lines but then offers up the chorus which warps convention and jumps notes in a way that makes your brain double-take.
I would like to have commented on the lyrical content, given what is outlined in the press release, but I struggled to make out enough complete passages to talk about them. I hope both the physical and digital releases come with a lyric sheet as it seems that this is an album that has more to say outside its sonic language but as I had an advanced copy (and could not find lyrics with an online search) I would not want to misrepresent the message. But the press-release did have a list of some sources from which Katie Von Schleicher drew inspiration and I have listed them below. This aside, the emotional sound of this album is tremendous with great attention paid to the production and a fantastic world of surprising twists and turns which contain multiple layers of sound like a sonic mille-feuille.
Consummation is out now on Full Time Hobby
Inspirational sources for the album:
Carmen Maria Machado: Her Body and Other Parties
Rachel Cusk: Outline trilogy
Rebecca Solnit: A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Review by Paul F Cook