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Staff pick First Play: Kathryn Calder, self-titled

Holly Gordon

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Take a step forward. A closer look. Lean in as Kathryn Calder lays out an album of love songs, a fittingly and simply self-titled collection.

The multi-instrumentalist for New Pornographers releases her third solo album this month, and she needs no preamble before listeners dive in. It’s all there in the subtleties: the ache in the words "you can never be mine, no you’ll never be mine, love" in the first single, "Song in CM;" the admission that "if we fall, then we fall," off the same track; the slow build to the crashing chaos of "When You See My Blood;" the heartbreaker of a mantra in dance-party anthem "Take a Little Time," where Calder sings, "And when you promise all the things that never last, I’ll forgive, and I’ll forgive you." On Kathryn Calder, the singer-songwriter doesn’t tiptoe around something we often ignore: life is short. And holy, is it heartbreaking.

It’s something Calder herself hasn’t been able to forget. She recorded her solo debut, Are You My Mother?, in 2009, while she was caring for her dying mother, who was diagnosed with ALS. Calder’s father died the year after her mother did, and in 2011 Calder released her Polaris longlisted sophomore album, Bright and Vivid. Within that time, New Pornographers also released two albums — Together (2010) and Brill Bruisers (2014). This year, Calder’s carving some space for herself.

Kathryn Calder was recorded on Vancouver Island in a studio that Calder’s husband, Colin Stewart, built. The two co-produced the album, which features work from fellow B.C. folk Dan Mangan, Jill Barber and Hannah Georgas. Originally, she recorded something entirely different, then changed her mind and scrapped the entire album, save for a few pieces. "I have a philosophy that nothing is a total waste," she told the Wall Street Journal.

Ultimately, it’s Calder’s classical, beautifully strong vocals that are showcased on the final songs, coupled with lush, layered synth-pop instrumentation. Where Calder’s lyrics lay her heart bare, she musically swathes each song: the complexity of tracks like "When You See My Blood" and "Take a Little Time" sit in seeming contrast to "Arm in Arm" and "Song in CM," but even the simplest-sounding tracks have layers of sound.

So take that step forward. That closer look. Listen to Calder’s album of love songs with an open heart.

Find me on Twitter: @hollygowritely