Picture this: a silhouetted figure is standing in a doorway, looking into a dark room. Arms projected slightly. The figure is fixated on something in front of them. Fog rolls in from behind. The figure is wearing a shirt that says just “Sad Songs” in large, bold print. Here you have a literal frame from a Katie Von Schleicher music video, but more importantly, you have a symbolic representation of the music of Katie Von Schleicher: stark, dark, and just plain weird. Also, it’s so simple it’s ageless. Von Schleicher’s new album, Shitty Hits, although a slight shift from her past work, continues this path.
Von Schleicher works at Ba Da Bing Records. When she was an intern, she was asked on a whim to make an album to be released on cassette. The request was made with low pressure, with the owner expecting something closer to a hodge-podge of demos. She countered with an unexpected landmark of an album, Bleaksploitation, which was released in 2015. It garnered enough attention that it was re-released on multiple, more accessible formats, and rightfully so. Bleaksploitation is an accomplished work by an auteur of strange pop. It’s like a Billy Joel or Christie McVie album recorded in Robert Pollard’s basement. It’s a set of homemade American standards wrapped in fuzz with a rusty razor-wire ribbon on top. It’s great.
Move forward a few years, and Von Schleicher is releasing Shitty Hits, again on Ba Da Bing. With Bleaksploitation, Von Schleicher dug in deep with the lo-fi approach, recording on a four-track and doing almost all the tracks on her own. Shitty Hits was approached quite differently. It was recorded in a legitimate studio, with Von Schleicher taking the tracks home and adding dozens of overdubs. Due to this, the album is mostly quite loud compared to Bleakspoitation, with full band arrangements being the norm and psychedelic instrumental flourishes seeping from the cracks at every turn in phrase or every switch of a chord. It’s lush, and it works, especially as a backdrop for the powerful vocal turns of Von Schleicher.
Lyrically, the album is focused on the misgivings of the interior mind. On “Paranoia”, she details the struggle with those fleeting good feelings that paranoia sweeps away so easily. Later, on “Life’s a Lie” she begins by mentioning a pleasant, possibly romantic moment, but quickly ruins it by stating, “I can’t shake the thought that burns in me. I’m alone. I’m alone. I’m a lone man.” Elsewhere on the album, the theme continues the internal conflict with the exterior world. Von Schleicher is verbalizing those moments where we talk ourselves out of feeling happiness.
It’s a fairly dark record overall, musically and lyrically. I guess that’s the point, though. If we’re being honest, we all have these feelings of inadequacy and mental isolation on the regular. At least the goofy title of the album gives us a little respite from the dinginess of the lyrics within. It’s nice to know Von Schleicher can smile while carrying all that weight. Imagine that silhouetted figure described above, but add a smirk: that’s Katie Von Schleicher.
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