reviewed by Michael Thomas
You can’t get a much more on-the-nose name than Honest Tracks, the second release from Calgary’s Kirsten Ludwig. It’s honest in many ways: its arrangements are never big enough to obscure the message of the song; the lyrics themselves pull the listener close; even the production sometimes decides to “leave everything in.”
Rooted in folk but with toes dipped into the ambient genre, it’s no wonder that Ludwig is right now touring with support from Madic Records—like Astral Swans, the music here takes something familiar and skews it just enough to make it something wholly interesting. It’s like the music of STACEY meets Anamai.
It’s easy to use the word “haunting” to describe what Ludwig does; there’s something about a mournful guitar and piano that can make a song spooky and serene all at once. But the EP is hair-raising right off the bat—”December 10,” with its eerie piano and barely-above-a-whisper spoken-word elements, could be the music to accompany a horror trailer. “Stop punishing me,” she repeats, among many other cryptic phrases.Later on in the EP, “North Haven Drive” follows the same format, also about breaking free of restraints, with lyrics like “I must rewire myself to float in the vast sea without assistance/And you know what, I long to be free.”
Ludwig really shows off her chops with songs like “Cinnamon,” previously a single. The gentle folky guitar pairs nicely with just a hint of synth and later piano and vivid lyrics. “Untitled//404” is an album highlight, relying more heavily on the piano with an undercurrent of synth elevating it to new heights. The choruses are especially haunting thanks to Sam Weber’s backing vocals and the accompanying rise in intensity of the instruments as they sing together. Curiously, the song ends with some background noise, as though the song is existing within something bigger.
“Suzy” picks up where the previous song left off, but with a twinkling behind the piano that suggests the EP won’t wallow around in darkness forever. Sure enough. “Wings”is a revelation; the gentle guitar and synth make it seem like the song is floating higher into the clouds with every second that passes by.
Listening to Honest Tracks is like soaring through someone’s subconscious—there’s beauty, there’s sadness, but ultimately, there’s hope. Honesty is certainly the best policy in folk-based music and Ludwig has that in spades.
Top Track: “Untitled//404”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)