Price and the band show pop’s intentional side
It’s important to recognize how little awards matter. Harrison Ford has never won an Oscar. Barry Bonds never won a World Series. Tupac Shakur never won a Grammy. Especially in this already-toxic industry, too many artists and songs are overlooked—and because of this, the world suffers. Even artists who may fit into a category that the Grammys find “popular” still may not receive the notoriety or respect that they deserve. This is the case for Lake Street Dive and their new album, Obviously.
The first track “Hypotheticals” sets us up for an ’80s crooner vibe—complete with lofty piano riffs, over-the-top chimes and lasting cymbals. Just when people would expect for the cheesy saxophone to come in, the song shifts. A poppy, electric guitar riff changes the scene, giving off an emotion that can only be described as happiness.
The second track, “Hush Money,” is equally strong and lively. Much more of a southern rock punch to it, the outlaw style of hushed music goes perfectly with lead singer Rachael Price’s asking for a little bit of “hush money” because “I got bills to pay,” “I got things to say” and “I got pills to take.”
“Same Old News” opts for the more lo-fi, coffeehouse-style of pop that has defined this group for the last 16 years. However, without a sudden shift, the song evolves into a Motown duet. The duet happens between Price and songwriter, ”funksoulbrotha,” Akie Bermiss. Reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On, similar percussive patterns, rhythms and sounds are used to create that Gaye-patented smooth groove.
From here, listeners encounter two songs about resiliency. “Being A Woman” offers a heavy, yet musically light picture of the “uphill climb” women experience every day. The next song, “Making Do,” shows sympathy towards the new generation’s struggles while offering beams of hope.
Lake Street Dive’s version of a ballad occurs in the middle of the album with their song, “Nobody’s Stopping You Now.” It’s primarily a piano song—drums, bass and guitar fill the pauses, adding more power and passion behind the words which read, “Don’t try to be a woman anymore. Nobody’s taught you how. Skin your knees and throw punches in the air, nobody’s stopping you now.” It reads as a callback to her earlier song, “Being A Woman.”
“Lackluster Lover” opens with a piano section that sounds as if it were too early for even the silent movies, which make it even stranger that the song then moves on to a reckless yet content form of carelessness mirrored by the rhythmic bass and beat. “If you told me you loved me, I wouldn’t give a shit,” Price croons, showing the grief that has led her to lose relational emotions altogether.
Hitting another stop on their journey through genre, the blending of their earlier Motown style like “Same Old News” with their new-age style of pop is present in the track, “Anymore.” Time slows down on the album to give room to a Babyface-Esque R&B beat. A groovy but soft funk guitar dances around the beautiful melody of Price’s voice, continuing on the narrator’s feelings of giving up as she sings: “I’m not falling anymore.” This one—vocally, lyrically, instrumentally and emotionally—is one of, if not the best, track on the album.
The switch from “Anymore” to “Feels Like The Last Time” is so vast that it is almost comical. Tempoed, slowed drum machines are given up for a quicker beatbox beat. This, along with a ukulele, seems like a strange choice to back the emotion of an untrusting mourner, but somehow, it works.
A choir of voices and a vocoder welcomes people to the last track on the album: “Sarah.” This particular track finally brings the album into focus. When Price sings, “This is the last time I will talk about you, I will say your name,” it feels as though it has finally been revealed that all of this introspection and grief is focused towards Sarah. Price’s vocoder-assisted voice haunts the sonic waves for the next two minutes and 38 seconds. Though not the best song on the album, its resolution—“Sarah never won”—and instrumentation act as a perfect bookend for the album, almost like the closing track of a movie.
For some reason—maybe the strange cover art or the “holier than thou” sounding album title—it’s shocking how enjoyable the album is. Song after song did something different. The genre was changed, or the mood, or the lyrics or the instruments. The cheeriness of the songs, though, has to be looked through to see some of the pain that is trying to be expressed. Lake Street Dive can make happy songs about sad things and sad songs about happy things. More than anything, this shows their ability to bend music at will and put forth the exact type of album that they wanted to in Obviously.