As Mozart’s Sister, Caila Thompson-Hannant makes electropop that is elastic, colorful, and sugary. It is Laffy Taffy made manifest in song. That “elastic” quality feels especially pertinent in describing her vocals, which can change shape dramatically within seconds. One moment her voice is a full-throated bellow, the next a high-pitched coo redolent with sweetness. On her latest album, Field of Love, Thompson-Hannant supplements this theatrical vocal delivery with plastic synths painted in washes of primary colors, her technique ensuring that the music retains a quality of playfulness, dynamism, and unpredictability. It is a left-of-center conception of pop music aimed at fans of the Kate Bush lineage, one that fits squarely alongside other Montreal-based artists like Grimes and Braids.
If the candied aspect of Field of Love makes for an entertaining listen, the same characteristic at times limits the album’s emotional scope and depth, however. While the surface of the record stretches and contorts itself into unusual shapes, creating a superficial sense of range, it also remains persistently opaque. It is only through fleeting glimpses that an interior life can be discerned or even hinted at within the songs, which makes the album as frustrating as it is occasionally satisfying.
“Plastic Memories” is the deepest and most successful cut, largely circumventing the emotional barriers outlined above. The track exudes glitz and melancholy in equal parts, largely through the power of suggestion: all you need to hear are the wistful, Mariah Carey-esque sighs that dot the chorus to grasp the song’s emotional content. Thompson-Hannant’s melodic chops are on their finest display here as well, making a line like, “I am a death messenger!” sound like a unifying anthemic chant.
“Eternally Girl”, the album’s opening track and lead single, comes closest to achieving the same pop gloriousness of “Plastic Memories”, but it is here that the cracks in Mozart’s Sister’s approach begin to show as well. On the song’s ostentatious theatre kid chorus, Thompson-Hannant giddily sings, “I could be the one that you love!” (Her ebullient delivery makes it feel wrong to quote any line without an exclamation mark). It is undeniably catchy. Beyond the chorus, however, the song becomes sporadic and spontaneous to a fault, without the emotional heft to makes its whims land with an impact. Its playfulness becomes a detriment at this point, as though being used to compensate for lack of emotional directness or honesty. “Eternally Girl”, like too much of Field of Love, becomes a novelty observed from afar rather than an immersive or connective experience.
Subtle variations in style pepper the remainder of the album, including a brief foray into tweeny hip-hop on “Bump”, where Thompson-Hannant channels the cheerleader rapping of Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss. The buoyant synths overlaying the track maintain consistency with the album as a whole while venturing some stylistic diversity. “Angel” slows the pace to a crawl, though even more so than “Eternally Girl” it overly emphasizes its chorus. For a precious, delicate few moments, Thompson-Hannant sounds like a classic R&B goddess before drifting off entirely into nondescript crooning. The rest of the album similarly struggles with a lack of memorability, and other than a lovely play on the words “Baroque” and “broken” on album closer “Baroque Baby”, there is not much else to hold onto here.
Mozart’s Sister made the wise decision to limit Field of Love to eight tracks, ensuring the album does not too much overstay its welcome. Rather than serving a conceptual purpose, however, its brevity feels mostly designed to conceal the fissures in its otherwise appealing surface, which would only become more apparent on a longer album. It’s difficult to imagine Thompson-Hannant deploying this playfully aloof style for, say, 12 tracks while retaining the listener’s interest throughout. She has an ear for pop hooks that keeps the album above water and, at its best moments, makes for a briefly triumphant listen. Finding ways to maintain the intuitive magnetism of her music while also fleshing out the characters and stories that bring the songs to life would make for a deeper and more nuanced work.
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