reviewed by Michael Thomas
There’s a certain amount of confidence one can discern from the third album by KASHKA, the pop project of Toronto’s Kat Burns. Burns is looking confidently away from the camera and has the poise of a superhero who’s just saved the day. And hell, she even has a dog with her.
Perhaps the cover is a reflection of how confident she’s gotten with this project, too. RELAX is perhaps the strongest of her three albums so far—the songs never go too long and there’s no sense of musical excess. On this album, Burns collaborates with Lisa Conway (L CON, Del Bel) and Andrew Collins (Skeletones Four, AMC Gremlin), and the musical sensibilities of the three combined make this oh so satisfying.
RELAX is an imperative telling you to take it easy, but in aggressive uppercase letters, and the album’s content also deals with this juxtaposition. In songs like “New Moon Blues” and “Float Away,” Burns sings of “bodies of light, bellows of sound” and “bodies warm and laid out in the sand, soaking up all the light we can,” respectively. But in “Reset/Outro,” she’s grappling with our new, wired reality.
Besides Conway and Collins, she has a number of excellent musicians contributing at least a little, from Lisa Bozekovic’s vocals in “New Moon Blues” to a string section featuring Mika Posen to James Bunton on keys. The many moving parts make each song a pristine little island on its own.
There are eight songs on the album, two of which are instrumental, but the album still feels complete. The two instrumentals, “I Can’t Relax” and “Look Up,” both seem to draw spiritual energy, with lots of vocalizations and hums over soaring synths, and help to divide the album into two parts. In the first half we have the aforementioned “New Moon Blues,” which unfolds slowly and builds up a beautiful string section. “Float Away” begins with a spare drum beat, gradually picking up power as Burns reminisces about a place frequented by both her parents.
“Signs” is a highlight of the album, one with a bassy synth-based beat that definitely bears from influence from Lisa Conway. While Burns sings “Break the darkness, let in the light,” it’s clear that goodness is not where this song is heading: “Cause every time we think we’ve got it all worked out, something comes along and turns it on its insides.”
On the flip side, “Holding Steady” has a very catchy chorus and perhaps the most optimistic song on the album, one of adapting and moving forward. “Wild Things” is full of twinkling synths, and “Reset/Outro” goes from worried to optimistic. Burns vocals are paired with warped ones at first, despairing about what our technological age has done to human interaction, but eventually Burns suggest a simple-sounding solution: find out what we’re missing, and we all might be able to “reconnect,” figuratively.
Relax. KASHKA commands it.
Top Tracks: “Signs”; “Reset/Outro”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) + *swoop*