There’s a vibrancy to Consummation that reflects the city where it was made: New York. While, during normal times (the “Before Times,” as many of us are now referring to pre-COVID-19 life), the city is a beautiful mush of millions of people from all over the world cohabiting a small share of blocks, Katie Von Schleicher’s new album (her second full-length for Brooklyn label Ba Da Bing!) is similarly a sprawling ecosystem of sounds and styles somehow coexisting in one 37-minute record. Its carefree nature will leave you yearning for noisy streets, while Consummation’s careful construction of moods and music are proof that Von Schleicher is a mindful artist capable of genre fluidity.
While Consummation’s energy feels scrappy and New York-ish, it actually takes place in much smaller spaces. Throughout the album, we circle—sometimes aimlessly—the shadowy depths of Von Schleicher’s dreams, mind and childhood neighborhood. “Ride in my car / I’ve got tons of time / I’m nowhere,” she sings on “Nowhere,” a sleepy product of loneliness and boredom. “Wheel,” which precedes it, sounds like it belongs on another album entirely (one of Consummation’s only flaws—occasionally the scattered sounds don’t quite flow from one song to the next), but it’s also one of the album’s best moments. “Wheel” finds Von Schleicher circling a blocked drain in a state of delusion (“If you tell me it’s a wheel / Could we turn it around?”), but the song’s actual tone is assured and bright, despite murky lyrics. The jaunty guitars would fit right in on a Courtney Barnett record, and the slick drums beg for heads to be bobbed along.
Those spirited rhythms appear again on “Caged Sleep,” a spooky exploration of sleep and dreams (the nightmarish kind). It will certainly find a home on indie Halloween playlists come October, but for now, “Caged Sleep” is an especially timely glance at how surreal dreams can really jostle us in unexpected ways.
As vast as New York City itself are the instruments and sounds on Consummation: harps align with orchestra choirs and slumping synths while romantic pop jives with major Debbie Harry vibes (“Caged Sleep” could totally pass as a Blondie song, or maybe a late-in-the-game B-52’s offering). Then enter “Messenger,” which sounds like the smooth equation of soft rock and jazz that dominated the likes of S.V.U. opening credits and evening news hours back in the late ’80s and early 1990s—but somehow Von Schleicher pulls it off. Dreamy cabaret takes over on “Strangest Thing” (“Oh don’t I know we’re right?” she asks moodily, “Tell me so I fell just like a child”), which transitions snappily into “Can You Help?,” a scruffy indie rock tune à la illuminati hotties or your favorite Bandcamp outfit. Von Schleicher is a proper shapeshifter.
Her chameleon instincts continue on “Gross,” a delicate (and eerie) slice of alt-folk in the vein of an Elliott Smith or an Adrianne Lenker. Her quivering voice continues on closer “Nothing Lasts,” a lopsided lullaby that transforms into another anxious rocker as Von Schleicher posts her own “You’re So Vain” takedown: “All you wanna be is right,” she sings. “You’d rather be a self than be wrong.”
We found out Katie Von Schleicher has a dark side and a good sense of humor when she released an album called Shitty Hits in 2017. On Consummation, she’s fine-tuned that appreciation for foggy nights and pitch-black humor into something a little more whole. Von Schleicher is unafraid to tap into the cloudier parts of her brain. When she does so with a solid idea of how all the moving parts form into a singular entity, she’s unstoppable. Consummation is a mesmerizing, multi-genre capsule of specific 2020 angst and fears. Whether or not she can successfully tame the urge to scamper off in a million different sonic directions on future efforts remains to be seen. For now, an attempt as good as this one and an album as colorful as NYC itself is plenty proof that Von Schleicher is going places.
Ellen Johnson is an associate music editor, writer, playlist maker, coffee drinker and pop culture enthusiast at Paste. She occasionally moonlights as a film fan on Letterboxd. You can find her yapping about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson.