Review: Katy Kirby – Cool Dry Place
National Music Reviews
Cool Dry Place
Katy Kirby = Lomelda + Julia Jacklin
To preserve potatoes, squash, garlic, onions and other root vegetables throughout the winter, store them away from direct sunlight and heat. On the title track of her first full-length album, Cool Dry Place, Texas-based Katy Kirby adds herself to that list. “Can I come over? Is it too late?” she asks, “Would you keep me, keep me in a cool, dry place?” Through indie-rock and folk-informed songwriting, Kirby offers up the heart on her sleeve and one hell of a debut. Drawing from the evangelical rock she grew up listening to, Kirby adds an infectious playfulness where preaching once was, then adds depth with well-placed jabs of heartache. Ingested, the songs on Cool Dry Place expose our innate human desire for a place to belong and a yearning to be treated gently.
“I pray a prayer for your eyelids / That they keep out and let in / That they’d open and close the way I’d wish / If I was your girl,” Kirby sings on “Eyelids,” the album’s intimate and lo-fi first track. It’s a bit jolting, then, when the full instrumental arrangement and sunny pop riffs of “Juniper” come in. This upbeat momentum continues through “Peppermint” and “Traffic!,” the latter fainty auto-tuned and erring, as a handful of the songs on Cool Dry Place do, on the twee side. This whimsy is executed perfectly on tracks like “Tap Twice,” however. “I tap twice on your doorframe and you let me in / I tap twice on your forehead and a heart appears,” Kirby sings carefully, as if on tip-toe. Crashing guitars finally break free of their restraint in the second half of the song, as do Kirby’s anguished vocals. “And I almost broke my wrists trying to bring you back / And you thrashed around like goldfish in a garbage bag,” she sings, proof that though the overall air of the album is buoyant, there’s some real hurt and anger bobbing just below the surface.
It’s clear that Kirby is grabbing from a mixed bag of inspirations, from gospel rock to pop, folk and indie-rock (a borrowed line from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” even ushers in the track “Secret Language”), but she succeeds in combining them to create something refreshing and unique. Her poetry takes center stage and is often heart-wrenching and beautiful. In “Portals” she sings, “I’m an alternate universe / In Target lingerie / You’re a country song in ¾ time / I can see through timing on a clear day.” Prickling, ominous strings swell as she continues, “We’re a hand punched through a pane of glass / To get the handle on the other side / Yeah, we’re cut on the knuckles / But at least we’re open wide.” Laced with metaphor, Kirby’s lyrics succeed in expressing profound emotions that are often difficult to put into words.
Within the nine tracks of Cool Dry Place, Kirby deviates from the lessons of her youth and searches for a comfortable place to land. In the end, it seems she doesn’t find it. The story of an unreciprocated relationship serves as the final track, and the sum of it all clocks in under 30 minutes. It seems to end abruptly and unsatisfied, but maybe that’s just another reason why I can’t stop hitting repeat. –Mekenna Malan