The cover art to Jessie Baylin’s new record, Dark Place, is a beautiful collection of plant and flower illustrations in a striking red hue that fades into violet halfway down. The meaning behind the artwork (and the album) may be revealed by the dedication inside the record to Violet. Violet, of course, is Baylin’s 2-year-old daughter with her husband, Kings of Leon drummer, Nathan Followill. Violet is also the reason the music world has not heard anything from Baylin since her 2012 record Little Spark. Baylin has taken time away to be a mother, and now returns with a record inspired by her transformed life.
Baylin has taken the emotions that come with new motherhood and turned them into a record that, according to Baylin’s website biography, is a “message to my daughter that there is a space where fear and jealousy and darkness live.” The record, released on her indie label Blonde Rat, most definitely does not dwell in darkness, but certainly offers up music that dabbles with melancholy as much as it ventures into more upbeat territory.
Baylin has stated that her music and sound are influenced by a range of famed female vocalists, from Billie Holiday to Stevie Nicks. However, a lot of the music is highly reminiscent of the work of Mazzy Star with its reverb and Baylin’s vocals. Baylin herself imagines the music as Mazzy Star fronted by Dusty Springfield. The second track on the record, “To Hell and Back” captures this sound perfectly with its echoing blend of a simple and plodding electric guitar line supported by acoustic strumming as Baylin sings “I don’t look back, see straight ahead.”
Lyrically the songs deal with standard fare of love gone wrong, new found love, and young lust. But of course the lyrics do struggle with that dichotomy she hopes to impart to her daughter. In “Black Blood,” one of the more upbeat and Dusty Springfield-esque songs, she sings “Feel the ache when you’re gone, feel the ache when you’re at home” followed by a synth solo that seems plucked out of the 80s in the best possible way. The title track “Dark Place” is a lullaby to her daughter in which Baylin urges, “when you’re gone out in the dark place, please do remember the light at home,” already anticipating the fear of Violet growing up.
The hand of producer and collaborator Richard Swift is positively felt throughout the record. Swift has done work most notably with The Shins as well as with The Black Keys, and that quality of music and aesthetic shines through. The gritty guitar work on the opening track “Creepers (Young Love)” belies the influence of the latter band. Therein lies yet another dichotomy highlighting Baylin’s message with this record; that things in the world are complicated and not always as they seem. That it’s possible to create music not easily pegged in a world where that is increasingly what the music industry tries to do.