Adventurous sounds, stagnant voice
Margaret Glaspy has always been toying with genres while allowing her singer-songwriter roots to shine. Fusing the honest and intimate eloquence of folk with the raw yet subtle emotions of soft rock, Glaspy’s debut album Emotions and Math explores different musical influences elegantly. While this fusion continues in her latest effort, Devotion, Glaspy’s failure to fully commit to the genres she tries to emulate, namely indie and electro-pop, deem Devotion more of a musical stumbling than an exploration.
Glaspy’s frustratingly one-dimensional vocal performance and processing throughout Devotion water down the more potentially biting tracks on the album, squandering their emotions. In “You’ve Got My Number,” Glaspy’s bright and intimate vocal tone conflicts with the dark and distorted guitar and abrasive synths while her metaphor-heavy lyricism and verbose phrasing distract from the instrumental’s desire to grow big and anthemic. The same problem persists in “What’s The Point.” In what could be a nihilistic statement questioning the purpose of life, the intended existential angst in the instrumentals, when coupled with Glaspy’s conversational and legato delivery, becomes a defeated sigh. Towards the end of the track, a distorted, robotic vocal line comes in for added edge. However, coming in after two minutes of a dry and bright vocal mix, this distortion comes off as an afterthought to distract listeners from the laughably banal, but admittedly wholesome, conclusion: “I wanna clap and shout through all my fears/ to help someone else through lonely tears/ that’s what the point is.”
When Glaspy commits to her own music exploration and shapes her performance in interesting ways, her music becomes more compelling. In the opening track, an oath to youth and love, “Killing What Keeps Us Alive,” Glaspy adds texture to her voice through layers of robotic distortion. While having the same pitfall as “You’ve Got My Number” in that it fails to reach an anthemic climax, the opening track remains an earworm with a catchy hook over a relaxed yet triumphant pop beat. The closing track, “Consequences,” sees Glaspy at her most experimental. The ambient, swelling, and sometimes tastefully noisy instrumental is reminiscent of a more mellow cut from Caroline Polachek’s Pang (2019). While Glaspy’s performance and sentiment in this track are both beautiful, the clash between her vocal mix and the instrumental is, once again, striking, hindering the song’s potential of being the best track off Devotion.
When Glaspy caters her songwriting and production to her natural instincts in the way she sings, her aforementioned pitfalls become her strengths. When not trying to compete for attention with the instrumentals, her eloquent lyrics and deliberate phrasings become narrative vehicles while her conversational vocal delivery serves as the driver, leading tracks such as “Young Love” and “You Amaze Me” to a nostalgic catharsis as she reminisces youthful, naive love experiences. The highlight of this album is its title track. “Devotion” sees Glaspy at her most straight-forward: no metaphor, no added edge. In “Devotion,” Glaspy explains to a lover that her expressing emotions and opinions, and her talking back, are all signs of her devotion. The lyric’s honesty, Glaspy’s intimate performance and the relaxed indie-pop instrumental all compliment each other to highlight the magic in Glaspy’s music when she plays to her strengths.
Glaspy’s distinct voice, style of delivery and lyrical wit is not a bad thing nor a good thing. They are facts about her as a musician, and when she lets them shine through, her music could pluck some serious heartstrings. Overall, while she stumbles quite a bit stylistically through Devotion, her willingness to experiment with different musical elements and challenge what listeners expect of her sound is admirable.