In the era of rising fascism, climate apocalypse, endless warfare, constant digital connection and omnipresent burnout, sometimes the best way to find relief is to tweet a sardonic one-liner. Kaya Wilkins knows this well: Throughout Watch This Liquid Pour Itself, her sophomore album (and first for Jagjaguwar) as Okay Kaya, the Brooklyn-via-Norway producer/songwriter makes the type of self-deprecating, often hyper-sexual jokes that might populate the average millennial’s Twitter feed. Instead of relying on memespeak, though (save mentions of “current mood” and “daddy” on the baritone-warped disco tune “Mother Nature’s Bitch”), she litters her lyrics with idiosyncrasies as social media era ironic as they are steadfastly earnest. In combining her equally sincere and sarcastic tales with her proclivity for ginormous hooks, her stunning, Sade-like croon and her disdain for genre boundaries, she’s crafted an infinitely quotable, profound and moving bedroom pop masterpiece.
Most songs on Watch begin with Wilkins’ voice as she forgoes instrumental intros and directs all attention to her tales of mental illness, sexual prowess (or lack thereof), existential dread and bizarre romances. The LP’s very first sound, at the outset of “Baby Little Tween,” is Wilkins singing “I ride the mood / Baby little tween / Mood riding / Riding on your dick / The only vice I’ve left.” These lyrics are a revelation compared to, say, 2018’s “IUD.” Though witty, that song’s fundamental question (“Would you come with me / To get an IUD? / Maybe, if you come with me / I’ll let you come in me”) leaves Wilkins’ fate in someone else’s hands, whereas on “Baby Little Tween,” only she controls her sexual agency. Her production and songwriting here are likewise several orders of magnitude stronger: Her croon shines like silver as it glides atop a minimal, enticing synth-pop groove.
Wilkins exercises unbreakable command and power throughout Watch. “If you don’t love me at my guttural sound / You don’t deserve me at my guttural sound,” she croons in her falsetto during the bare-pulsing, gong-spliced “Guttural Sounds,” updating Marilyn Monroe’s classic quote to affirm that she can experience her orgasms however she wants to. Just one track later, though, she does a 180: “Sex with me is mediocre / But I can give you asexual wellbeing… I can probably feel what you’re feeling,” she sings during the chorus of “Asexual Wellbeing,” possibly the album’s funniest track and certainly its most thumping. Her point is subtly brilliant: Even when she’s feeling sexually inadequate, she can offer her boundless mind, so the agency remains hers.
Wilkins can deliver laugh-out-loud moments without even hinting at sex. “You can peel an orange however you please in the psych ward,” she mutters at the start of “Psych Ward” before a garage-rock stomp replaces the track’s echo-laced acoustic guitars. Wilkins delivers this lyric so stolidly it’s undeniably hilarious, just as the song’s chorus chant of “Do the rounds!” makes her time in a psychiatric hospital sound almost fun. “Insert Generic Name,” a jazzy, warped campfire song that somehow lingers more strongly than the LP’s numerous upbeat tunes, is a barrage of jokes, depicting Wilkins’ “prolific boyfriend” less as a polygamist and more as part of a cult comprising other men named Stacy (which is also the name she suggests for a puppy on “Guttural Sounds”). The song only gets funnier as it progresses, with the second verse’s lyrics (“When you go / Will you keep all the alter egos / Will you call me and tell me I’m hot shit / That I’m your muse and I’m your genius? / Will it remind me that I’m crazy?”) satirically fusing codependency, mental illness and unearned confidence into one twisted tale.
An album so overflowing with moments this sarcastic could get exhausting, but Wilkins avoids this pitfall with acoustic ballads “Ascend and Try Again” and “Givenupitis.” On these songs, she uses her standard wit to poignantly tackle, respectively, anxiety and millennial malaise. The former recasts scuba diving instructions into a manual for surviving anxiety attacks: Guidelines such as “If there’s too much pressure / You need to stop and / Ascend and try again” are rendered shockingly beautiful. The latter rolls its eyes at the “all-out nightmare” of a generation reliant on “intravenous nutrition” and “supper through a straw,” its gentle humor hinting that apathy, body and lifestyle optimization, globalization and decreasing trust in institutions might screw us all.
Wilkins reveals Watch’s beating heart with only two songs left. “You know I’m only joking when I mean every word I say,” she quips during the softly thundering synthpop track “Stonethrow,” a lyric that perfectly summarizes the full album’s approach. Throughout the LP, Wilkins makes sweeping, poignant observations through the lens of a depraved internet comedian who consistently and deftly balances the serious with the sardonic. With songs like these in tow, the world might just survive its terrifying future after all.