PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Kris Delmhorst: Shotgun Singer

Maura Walz

Singer/songwriter invites listeners to be freedivers into an aural pool with unexpected depth.


Kris Delmhorst

Shotgun Singer

Label: Signature Sounds
US Release Date: 2008-04-15
UK Release Date: 2008-05-12
Amazon
iTunes

There’s a pernicious stereotype held by some music fans: the earnest singer/songwriter, alone with a guitar in her apartment, or a remote cabin perhaps, recording slow to mid-tempo folk-pop ballads meant to soundtrack listeners’ romantic evenings or to soothe their heartbreak. It’s easy to write off this type of singer as sleepy and generic, or at least to pigeonhole many of these mild-mannered performers into a barely distinguishable group. But this cliché belies how often such singers’ albums actually feature inventive and energetic writing, genre-skipping tunefulness, and production values that reward the careful listener with deep pools of sound in which they can immerse themselves.

Kris Delmhorst is such a singer. Her fifth studio album was, in fact, recorded mostly alone in a remote cabin (loaned to her by fellow expectation defy-ing songwriter Erin McKeown). Delmhorst’s performance alternates between bell-like vocals recalling other clear-voiced singers as McKeown, Sarah Harmer, and Laura Viers, and a whispered delivery modeled after Sam Beam. But while these comparisons and classifications and groupings are the first things that come to mind on listening to Shotgun Singer, the album’s bells and whistles -- or to be precise, its Rhodes pianos, organs, cellos, vibraphones, and vinyl samples -- distract the listener from any pigeonholing they might be tempted to do. The album’s most upbeat (and strongest) track, “1000 Reasons”, best shows off Delmhorst’s complex musical weaving: drum machine beats layer over live drums, energetic dance-hall piano plays around underlying Rhodes lines, electric guitars give shape to the song’s fuzzy synthesizer core.

The album’s strongly layered sound is a direct result of its creative development. In McKeown’s cabin, Delmhorst recorded the bones of the songs slowly, adding over time layers of guitar, strings, and percussive textures. She then brought the tracks to co-producer Sam Kassirer, who also produced last year’s stellar Josh Ritter album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, another album that plays with notions of what the work of a singer-songwriter sounds like. Kassirer and Delmhorst then brought another group of musicians to the songs, adding further drums, organs, vibraphone, slide guitar, and bass.

The result of this process is a recording of unusual depth. The interplay of multiple percussive elements on songs pulsate the slinky “Heavens Hold the Sun” and shade the lounge noir “If Not for Love”. Almost half of the songs feature vibraphone in key supporting roles, and its pairing with nylon-stringed guitars gives songs such as “Birds of Belfast” the quietly melancholic sense that these are tunes that could be heard coming from a child’s music box, with silvery syncopated tones accompanying a lone ballerina spinning slowly on a spring. But in spite of the layers of production, the album maintains the intimate strengths that home recording can lend a song. The warmth of the room tone underlying the whispered “Oleander” and the lyrical “Freediver” acts almost as another instrument in the arrangement.

The layers and layers of quiet sound create an atmosphere evoking a calm gulf of water, a sense that Delmhorst’s lyrics further. “Louie, all of the oceans are here inside me”, she sings on “Freediver”. “Search me, I don’t know if I am air or water / Truly I think they’re one and the same / To a freediver”. This isn’t always a strength -- some of the tunes, including album-opener “Blue Adeline” -- are pretty but meandering, failing to find a focus and washing over the listener without a current to pull them in. But most of the songs work, as Delmhorst takes songs with smooth singer-songwriter gloss and reveals their unexpected depth.

Delmhorst has already demonstrated her skill at teasing the familiar but sidestepping past it. Her last album, 2006’s Strange Conversation, was a collection of rootsy songs each inspired by poems by Robert Browning, e.e. cummings, Lord George Gordon Byron, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Hermann Broch. The pairing of Americana tunes with Romantic, Modernist, and Victorian poetry sounds like a contradiction, but it wasn’t. Shotgun Singer is less immediately anachronistic than that album, but it shows Delmhort’s continued progression as a songwriter of surprising musical ideas and a palate both broad and deep.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.