Margaret Glaspy Transforms Her Sound on Devotion
Singer’s second LP features synthesizers, electronic beats and vocal effectsMusic Reviews Margaret Glaspy
After exploring insecurity and bringing boys to the brink of tears on her debut album, Margaret Glaspy has taken on a more ardent perspective for her second LP. Devotion encompasses various meanings of the word, and Glaspy rolls through love, lust and the confidence to play it cool on a dozen new songs.
More than her outlook has changed: Glaspy transformed her approach to arranging her songs, building these tracks with digital tools that result in a decidedly different sound than the guitar-based indie-rock that characterized Emotions and Math in 2016. She toys with synthesizers, electronic beats and even vocal effects on Devotion, broadening her palette without sacrificing her identity. Opener “Killing What Keeps Us Alive” sets a tone at the very start by running vocals through a vocoder, paired with a swell of synth noise. Later in the song, she sings in her usual voice, echoed by faint metallic vocals in the background over a measured clapping beat and airy synthesizers that blend with moody minor-key piano. Though the song title seems to imply an accusation, she’s actually singing about pursuing heedless infatuation without regard for anything else: Her love is a rocketship heading into the sun, she’s exchanging her soul for the stars, starting a fire and living like nothing else matters at all.
Elsewhere, “You’ve Got My Number” starts with glitchy synths that skip like a vinyl record at the end of a side, and Glaspy intones the refrain with coy reserve as gurgling electronics blend with loud overdriven guitar (she’s a fierce, economical player) that’s mixed behind a thumping beat. For all her self-restraint on “You’ve Got My Number,” she’s almost giddy at the prospect of transgressing on “So Wrong It’s Right,” the most straightforward rocker on the album. Synths skitter around behind a fast, jumpy beat and a rumbling bassline while Glaspy sings about making out with a stranger in public in full view of anyone who cares to watch. (Your definition of “transgressing” may differ.)
That’s in contrast to the more cerebral think-it-through side Glaspy tends to present, but Devotion as a whole is a study in contrasts. There’s the obvious sonic element as Glaspy mixes and matches the band-in-a-box options of software programs with live instrumentation in a way that feels seamless and natural, adding depth to a sound that was sometimes a little dry on Emotions and Math. That’s not an issue here: Devotion is a richly structured collection, whether she’s musing dreamily over drums and gently pulsing synths on “Young Love” or venting frustration over a bombastic mash-up of booming electronics and caustic guitar on “What’s the Point.” Making songs the way Glaspy did on this album is probably a painstaking, time-consuming process, but the results feel spontaneous and unpredictable. That speaks to another contrast, or, maybe more accurately, two competing instincts: building on a well-received debut, and taking a bold step in a new direction. It’s an impressive feat that Glaspy manages to do both at once.
Revisit Margaret Glaspy’s 2015 Paste session: