Esmé Patterson first rose to regional prominence as part of Denver indie-folk band Paper Bird, and she made a name for herself as a solo artist with 2014’s Woman to Woman, a catchy singer/songwriter album with a clever conceit: Its songs were written from the perspective of the titular female characters in famous tunes like Elvis Costello’s “Alison,” the Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No,” Leadbelly’s “Irene” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” to name a few. All along, it seemed like Patterson was the restless type. She left Paper Bird at the height of that band’s popularity, and her 2016 solo album We Were Wild took a big step away from folksy singer/songwriter stuff toward a punchier rock sound.
With the release of her new record There Will Come Soft Rains comes yet another evolution, this time with the help of fellow Mile High City musicians Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley of indie-pop duo Tennis, who produced the record. Their fingerprints are all over Soft Rains, and they are tastefully applied across the board—in the gentle synth oscillations of “Over and Over,” the seraphic choir of backing vocals in “Light In Your Window,” the old-soul sway of “What to Do” and the stylish soft-focus sheen that blankets the whole album.
Moore and Riley not only produced and played on all of Soft Rains’ tracks, they’re also credited as co-writers on each of the record’s 10 songs. It’s a testament, then, to Patterson’s distinctive point of view that she still shines through. You can practically hear the euphoria of infatuation spilling over from “Shelby Tell Me Everything,” an opening track that establishes the album’s unique blend of swagger and sparkle. That same swagger jumps from the speakers on “Out the Door,” which finds Patterson speak-singing and spitting out wisdom against the shuffling strum of an acoustic guitar. “All we’ve really got is our bodies and our friends,” she snarls, “‘cause loving will break your heart again and again and again.”
Elsewhere, Patterson is an endless tangle of romantic contradictions. In the slow and slinky “Sleeping Around,” she declares “I’m not good at being alone sometimes,” but one track later on “All Mine,” a beautifully translucent ballad with a yawning vibe that recalls mid-period Wilco, she sounds at peace with a solitary life: “I’m just fine being all mine / Being lonely keeps you hungry.” Later, on “Momentito,” she takes about 25 seconds to morph from “I wanna love you if you want to love me” into “I don’t wanna make you mine, well not for more than a moment in time” as a synth pulses and a bass line burbles below the surface.
That short stretch of There Will Come Soft Rains’ eighth track encapsulates the overriding charm of this album, which sits snugly in the contrast of Patterson’s personal fluctuations—between loneliness and love, freedom and commitment, confidence and bewilderment—against her lithe songs and lock-tight arrangements. Like the rest of us, she is still figuring out where she lands in life’s many gray areas, and her journey is filled with refreshing honesty and radiant beauty.
Revisit Esmé Patterson’s 2016 Daytrotter session: