White Sea's debut separated her sound from her previous work with M83, but the lush, morose dance-pop of her piecemeal sophomore effort paints her as a truly compelling pop figure.
Technically, this review shouldn't exist.
When Morgan Kibby broke off from her support duties in electropop outfit M83 following a harsh romantic breakup, she used her distinct vocals and notable sense of melody to create a synth-minded alter ego called White Sea, eventually crafting In Cold Blood, a lush, fiery pop debut which PopMatters' own Matt Jones described as "simmering with feverish desire".
I couldn't agree more with that sentiment because while electro-leaning songstresses come and go with each passing year, it was Kibby's hooks and incredibly distinct lyrics that set her apart. "Hide your babies / I can travel through time," she noted on the opening to the blazing "Warsaw", before finishing out with "Like a devil cat with endless lives / I will steal your men and I'll seduce your wives". It may sound like there's a lot to unpack there, but who has time for that when she's writing thumping numbers as feel-good as this? White Sea was at once very accessible and deeply layered and sometimes outright obscure. It was a glorious mess of contradictions that added up to one compelling new voice in the electronic world.
Yet following In Cold Blood's warm reception, Kibby cooled on the idea of putting out another album. In a 2015 interview with MXDWN's Cristina Pimentel, Kibby was asked about the possibility of a sophomore effort, and she said, "You know, I'm actually not going to be releasing another album. I'm going to release songs. I don't really think the future of music really is releasing records from unknown artists. I don't really think anyone gives a shit about me releasing an album, to be perfectly honest. People care about songs and when I really can figure out who my audience is, then, I think, is the right time to be releasing an album."
Instead, Kibby simply put out a series of fascinating, brooding new tracks throughout 2015 and 2016 as part of her "Postcards from Nowhere" project. A lot of the lyrics were about getting stoned, but the music was much more considered, focused, and specific than In Cold Blood. While the songs trickled out over time, the release of Tropical Odds, her second full-length, was surprising: there were no interviews or other promos outside of the videos and audio already put out to her YouTube channel, as if Tropical Odds was merely a round-up of stray tracks rather than an album proper.
So how delightful it is to discover that even with all this context, Tropical Odds can be compared favorably to In Cold Blood to the point where one can claim it's even better. "Gangster No. 1", one of her last single releases in 2015, is a propulsive, regretful number that captures the ennui of aging in stark fashion, light piano pounds decorating an eternally-sawing synth cello over which Kibby lays stark lyrics:
All I wanted was some fun
So get me high, get me drunk
'cos you know I won't always be so young
It's a long, losing game
So what's the point?
While she talks about vague traumatic heritages in "Bloodlines" and serves as some sort of omniscient specter in the appropriately ghostly "One Bad Eye", Kibby has a way of leaning toward specificity but backing out at the last second, lest something become too identifiable. While certain tropes may echo that of other current pop stars -- Tove Lo could've easily used a song like "Yesterday" to ground her last record -- Tropical Odds still succeeds because all the songs, despite being recorded and released piecemeal over the course of a few years, still sound like they come from the same artistic place, all cohering together while still sounding like a logical progression from In Cold Blood.
Yet while descriptors alone make Tropical Odds sound like a morose, late-night-drive kind of record, Kibby still manages to find great moments of levity too. "Never a Woman" starts with a synth riff right out of an '80s educational video but soon turns it into a dance number about the city killing you and wanting to be alone romantically. It's thrilling stuff, and it comes right after "Stay Young, Get Stoned", a hell of a rallying cry that echoes some of "Gangster No. 1"'s sentiments but with a much more optimistic lilt.
Make no mistake: even if it wasn't intended ever to be compiled as an album, perhaps Kibby decided to put one out because while an outpouring of songs is fine, a proper album makes for a cohesive, quantifiable statement, one that serves as a signpost for an artist's career. Even with lesser songs like "Secret" still doting the tracklist, White Sea's lost-in-a-loveless-city persona -- at times stoic and at times wry -- nonetheless is even more fascinating here than on her debut full-length.
She may not have intended to ever make a second album, just as how this review isn't supposed to exist, but Kibby is one of the more compelling pop artists out there today, and hopefully by the time she releases her fifth effort, not only will we not have to question whether or not a review will be coming out for it, we'll all just be wondering if she managed to top her last masterpiece.