By: Melissa Saunders
As a whole, Casey Desmond’s Chilly Allston (2008) EP is an upbeat, pleasant pop album. Her fiery red tresses and soulful vocals might garner some comparisons to Bonnie McKee, or the Postal Service if Jenny Lewis helmed lead vocals. It’s apparent that Desmond has a knack for arrangements and solid vocal delivery - in addition to singing vocals, she plays guitar, piano, accordion, synths, omnichord, and does programming. It’s interesting to hear how sharp her sound is - for female pop artists who choose to delve into an electronic-tinged sound, it usually means that their songs are often glossy and overproduced (Ke$ha, you’re on notice!) but for Desmond this is not the case.
The title track opens with plucky bleeps and Desmond’s ethereal, harmonious vocals. The dance-y, up tempo beat is cleverly juxtaposed with dark lyrics: “you’re moments from the height of it, but only seconds from the fall” and, “Anarchy on the freeway/no one’s gonna tell you how to drive/no one’s gonna stop you from melting tires.” There’s a refreshing absence of studio tricks to obscure her clear, confident and charming voice. The song serves as the perfect soundtrack to a Friday night walking down Harvard Avenue amidst the iridescent pearls of streetlights and neon signs of bars. As the song comes to the bridge, it shifts from a cautionary tale to a universal cry of feeling lost in the misé en scene of the city’s overwhelming external stimuli.
An airy backdrop of the music plays second fiddle to Desmond’s spirited vocals in the angst-y, stirring “Heavy Heavy Heart”, which finds Desmond singing lines such as, “Melancholy feels glorious”. If Paramore’s Hayley Williams grabbed a keyboard, a bottle of Manic Panic Vampire Red hair dye and cured her voice with a little more sweetness, it might result in this soaring ballad.
The jangly piano sounds of “Preacher Man” are vaguely reminiscent of Elliott Smith’s “Son of Sam”, from Figure 8, but as far as composition and lyrics, the comparison ends there. Desmond ungainly tries to mimic gospel-soul and the result are unfortunate. The forced-rhymed lyrics seem lazy and half-hearted. Vocals are sung in a mock bad girl style. When Desmond embraces pop sensibilities in other songs off Chilly Allston, they are given more depth and edge. One cannot deny, however, the saucy self-abasement of Desmond throwing herself at a pious man of God. If Chilly Allston was turned into an LP and released on a major label, “Preacher Man” would, no doubt, be a top contender for second single. Ultimately, it just sounds like awkward filler material; it’s the only bump in an otherwise consistent and smooth-flowing album.
Redemption does come for Desmond, however, in the form of “Any Wonder”, a darkly enchanting, gothic ballad. While her vocals evoke the style and timbre of Nicole Atkins, this song brings back the pensive yet upbeat mood of the album. Equal parts heart-wrenching pop ballad, “Any Wonder” is a wise choice to close the EP, as the hypnotizing and dark magnetism leave the listener wanting more. Casey Desmond’s prowess in songwriting, arrangement and composition paired with her winsome vocals show great promise; maybe either further than her scarlet-haired contemporaries.
Casey Desmond will definitely have the indie pop/electronic crowd dancing when she plays the weekly THROWED (18+) event at the Middle East - this Thursday, April 15th.