Katie Gately loves to play with fire. She’s far more formally educated about sound than your typical DIY producer, but this fascination with technique has brought her to a bold realization: more is more. That’s the idea driving Color, a debut album that is, more than most, a full-fledged embrace of maximalism. It’s the type of record that piles so much onto each sonic platter that you listen in constant fear of it toppling over, and although Color could benefit from a bit of breathing room, each batch of mechanical sludge is given enough attention to thrive.
In many respects, this concern about “breathing room” is precisely where the value stems from. In Gately’s work, music is synonymous with sound, and the quality comes from the compilation of these sounds into a sonic behemoth where each sample fights with the others for dominance over a passage. That’s the driving atmosphere of Color, and it’s quite a noble one. Highlighting the beauty in noise is a thing many artists do, but few are able to mold into a blow this cohesive.
Gately’s music works best when the atmosphere is narrow. A song like “Rive” could confidently call be called “spooky”, yet it is far more powerful than the tracks that are more bashful or have broader textures. Swarms of vocals lock themselves in an echo chamber but each snippet is sucked of its humanity, expanded, and left to linger. The only thing that escapes the mix is a deflating, creepy line of lone orchestration so sharp that you’ll know its capacity when you hear it.
Other highlights are more upbeat. “Tuck” has an equally detached aura to its soundbank, but it seems to be progressing towards something a bit jubilant in its swagger, even if the climax is just as distorted and demented as songs where percussion plays a lesser role. “Lift” is rapid and sporadic, but is concerned less with a climax and more with a frantic equilibrium, where each cleverly manipulated vocal loop carves out its own movement. She succeeds when most of the flavor resides in the forefront when there is enough going on to appeal to this record’s dangerous tendencies but you can decipher the small elements that house most of her ingenuity.
That being said, there are moments where the clutter becomes overbearing. Maximalist pop can often benefit from a lack of containment, but when these songs get blown up to the point where their backbone is hardly tangible, it becomes far more grating than rewarding. Most of these songs have movements with potential, but as bigger pieces, they fall apart. “Sift” prospers early on because of its jerky melodies, but it comes on a bit too strong with its distortion; many of the moments where the catharsis is meant to be unearthed feel sloppy. When there’s too much going on in this album it is abundantly clear, but the excess is crafted carefully enough to pull through.
There’s plenty of redemption to be found in the way Gately tweaks these experiments so that they function around a conventional form. Lots of this has to do with the allure found in Gately’s playful vocals, which wrap themselves around these tracks like a glossy caretaker and expand when the songs explode. Gately isn’t just a producer; she’s a presence. Songs like “Frisk” and “Color” see the instrumentals take passenger seat to Gately’s slithering vocals, and she has enough animation to make it work. The melodies she delivers can be saccharine, but the posture is always unsteady.
Coming from an artist who outwardly flirts the obnoxious, Color is surprisingly tasteful. The moments that need some cleaning up are usually rambunctious and brief enough to get by, and when she finds a sweet spot between allure and aggression, it is almost untouchable. Gately is capable of a more consistent release, but as a starting point, Color leaves you itching to see where inevitable maturity will take her approach.