Katie Von Schleicher would have been hard-pressed to find a more fitting title for her new album. Bleaksploitation pits gloomy anguish against high drama, and they fight to a draw on seven songs that balance weird with compelling and catchy.
It’s a defiantly lo-fi collection, steeped in reverb and full of gritty atmospherics that veer off from the more straightforward direction Von Schleicher took on her 2012 album, Silent Days. Where many of those songs had a loose-limbed, almost rootsy quality, the tunes on Bleaksploitation are tightly wound and far more intense.
The first thing you hear on the album is Von Schleicher’s voice, pleading as though she’s on the verge of collapsing dramatically into a heap. She sings with wounded bewilderment on the opener, “Baby Don’t Go,” her impassioned vocals cutting through murky guitars and overdriven drums, and it sounds like a vintage girl group playing in the basement of a haunted house. “Ronny” further stretches the limits of the Tascam four-track she used to record the album, with cascades of scabrous, trebly guitar falling around Von Schleicher’s voice, a distant croon set way back in the mix.
Though Bleaksploitation doesn’t lack for histrionics, there are plenty of subtler touches, too. Von Schleicher sings over a muted wash of guitar and the thump of a kick drum on “Joanna,” and the song has a meandering, off-handed feel until the music swells up around her like a flash flood pouring through a cracked speaker cone. Then there’s “Denver Tonight,” a little jewel tucked away at the end of the album that builds from grainy guitar and a grit-caked snare-kick drum combo into woozy spirals of melody that circle with the force of a slow-motion tornado.
The song, like the album, finds elegance in claustrophobic emotion, and Von Schleicher stands wreathed in the turbulence as guide and provocateur. The role suits her well.