There are several reasons why Kaia Wilson is perhaps the perfect object of an unrequitable rockstar crush. First, she’s staggeringly cute. Second, she’s one of the most charismatic performers I’ve ever seen. Third, she writes really cool songs. Fourth, she’s completely and utterly unattainable (well, for us guys, anyway. Girls might hold on to the desperate hope that they might be the one to pry her away from the clutches of her beloved Tammy Rae, but don’t hold yer breath). And guys, you don’t even have to feel guilty about having a crush on Kaia, because odds are pretty damn good that your girlfriend will have a crush on her too. And as everyone knows, there’s nothing like an unattainable rockstar crush to bring couples together.
So, what does this have to do with Kaia’s latest solo record, Oregon? Well, not much, except for the fact that I’m pretty hard pressed to find much wrong with most of the stuff she puts out, even if it’s a pretty, airy, relatively lightweight affair, as Oregon is.
Kaia has always been at her best when backed by a loud-ass rock band. Whether it was her work in the seminal Team Dresch, or her current crack outfit, The Butchies, Wilson has always been a master at combining addictive pop melodies with stone-crushing punk rock. While The Butchies are just hitting their stride (their 3 can take credit as one of the best records of last year), Kaia still manages to put out a pleasant little acoustic solo record every few years.
While The Butchies’ best work borders on groundbreakingly brilliant, Kaia’s solo stuff tends to tread much closer to the middle of the road. These are pretty, catchy little folk-pop songs that probably aren’t going to change anyone’s life, but are very nice nonetheless. Oregon actually finds her backpedaling slightly into the comfortable, charming coffee-house folk that characterized her first, self-titled solo record, in comparison to the new-wave keyboard experiments that dotted 1998’s Ladyman. However, she still finds room for the amusingly cheesed-out Casio beat on the short “Make Me Please”, and the washes of keyboard that float over “Air” in a similar way that they did on Ladyman‘s “Little Brave One ‘97”.
If I could ask one thing of Kaia with respect to her solo records, it would be a bit more variation from song to song. Too many of these songs feature nothing but Kaia’s voice and acoustic guitar. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, too much of it tends to create a slightly hermetic atmosphere, and makes such subtle instrumental variation as the harmonica that runs through “Jasper” seem like a ray of sunshine on a gray day.
Basically, there’s nothing here that’s going to shock anyone who’s heard either of Kaia’s other two solo releases. Her voice still lilts, her lyrics still cut deep, and her songs are invariably well-constructed and pretty. However, there isn’t really anything on Oregon that differentiates it from either of her other solo records. Despite this, it’s still quite an enjoyable listen, and a breath of fresh air to indulge in before the Butchies’ inevitable next assault.