Album with a woman on the cover.

Local Review: Kal Mara – CATALYST

Local Music Reviews

Kal Mara
Street: 05.31
Kal Mara = Lykke Li + ELIO

Ever experience a breakup and somehow end up forgetting what a bad bitch you are? Well, Salt Lake City-based Kal Mara’s new indie-pop release, CATALYST, can be your own “catalyst” to transform that sour aftertaste into the motivation you need to move on—once you’re ready to lean into how disgusted you really are. 

With soft vocals folded over lo-fi beats, Kal Mara delivers a heartbreaking album that kicks off with a post-mortem awakening to precisely how deeply this relationship drives both parties into dysregulation. In the first track “Equilibrium,” the melancholy lyrics seep with a pained but hopeful tone, backlit with flashes of anger that shake up the gloom. Cycling through several emotions, she sets the tone for the rest of the album which ebbs between the phases of grief in pursuit of returning to a balanced state: equilibrium, stasis. Opting for a steady tempo throughout the full length of her debut album, Kal Mara projects an outward calm created by the gentle volume of her instrumentals that don’t ever overpower her resonant vocals. 

Choosing imagery that’s putrid rather than despondent, our heroine feels nauseated, not inconsolable—dishes lay undone in the sink, milk spoils after being left out of the fridge, a filthy trash bag tears and seeps into the couple’s socks. It’s evocative of that exact moment when you first get the ick from your failing relationship; in a way, it’s almost freeing.  Dialing her grotesque wordplay to a magnitude that falls just short of Ethel Cain’s “sun bleached flies sitting in the windowsill” or the decomposing freezer bride from Preacher’s Daughter, it’s still enough to induce vomiting as she decries, “And still you wonder why I throw up like this.”

Healing isn’t a linear progression forward, and by the fourth track “Monster,” we take two steps back squarely across the fridge to whiff the curdled dairy once again, expecting it to smell any better—or at least well enough to chortle a few stolen gulps and satiate the hunger for what’s already long since expired. Kal Mara hints at the shame of returning to these familiar feelings, even allowing herself to be degraded by her ex: “Calling me a monster, a sucker for a fight / Calling me a demon ‘cause I want you in the night” before making a 180-degree turn and remembering why it’s over. “And now I regret it, we can’t go back / And honestly that’s just what I needed to realize / I needed to love me the deepest,” she sings.

The sun peeks through the clouds with “Blessed,” the first song to shift the tone lyrically and instrumentally to a more celebratory place of self-acceptance, with the realization: “Knowing you could never live up to my expectations / I think I’m blessed, that you have left.” The album’s confidence then crescendoes and peaks during “Blocked,” a groovy, reverberated track with a bratty attitude that vows a permanent nonchalance towards men. “If you want to see me, send a deposit / and I’ll consider, but no promises,” she says. It’s daringly like: I know you’re a fake and an absolute loser, but I’ll still take your money. No guarantee it’s enough for me to waste my time on your trifling ass though. Like okay, that’s so real. It’s so SheraSeven of Kal Mara. She’s in her dark, feminine energy. And while a growing faction of internet critics lament this sort of overly-transactional approach to relationships with men that reinforce sexist, self-help dating advice from decades past, it’s so much more fun to play into misogynistic tropes (satirically) than to wallow. I also think they miss the point—it’s always deeply unserious. 

Winding down from what felt like the most fun tracks, laid back-to-back on the album, the pacing slows and scales upward to a more enlightened point of view that shrugs off the playful man-hating in favor of reverence for the lessons learned along the way. Still maintaining the same vibrant energy, the penultimate track, “Mother” closes the chapter on heartache: “With a brand new view of where I stand / I’m finally grateful for the thunder.” While it’s perhaps a stretch, as the album ends at exactly 33 minutes, I imagine Kal Mara is sending us angel numbers that represent an awakening. With an easy and short time commitment, there’s no excuse not to experience Salt Lake City’s latest bedroom pop release from a talented local artist. I, for one, will be kicking my feet back and forth singing the catchy track seven refrain “dollar dollar bills” while I swear off men forever. –Arthur Diaz 

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