MCF: Bridget Kearney with Elizabeth Moen, Paul Cary
The Mill — Wednesday, April 5 at 10 p.m., $12-15
The title song that starts the album, the obvious “single” (if that even means anything), is a sunny, upbeat number layered with unsettling touches — the sustained scratching of a homemade noise box that sounds like a boiling kettle, the dry vocal sound that feels as though you’re trapped in a phone booth with her while she sings.
The lyric is a twist on teen romance; the singer self-describes as a little sketchy and forward, but she repeats, “Won’t let you down” a few too many times. She’s either your perfect girlfriend or a crazy stalker.
Bridget Kearney’s been in the successful neo-soul band Lake Street Dive, but Won’t Let You Down explores her poppier side. The track “What Happened Today” has hints of ’70s soul, but like Laura Nyro it’s an echo rather than an imitation; she uses falsetto and delicate vibrato to convey emotional vulnerability.
“Serenity” is an ode to leaving the rock & roll lifestyle to find a calmer state of mind, but it slyly undercuts the idea: “I’m going to go to my country home” recalls the famous old estates British rock stars bought in the ’70s. “Jesus Christ, how do the stars get away with it?” she sings, shocked by the night sky.
“Wash Up” is a perfect ghost of Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac; even if it’s a conscious cop of the style, it’s too lovely to dismiss as pastiche or nostalgia. The extra-high-pitched synth shimmers inflate the song as if they’re helium. At the same time it’s a sad love song over a lover who can’t seem to get his shit together.
You know Bridget Kearney isn’t playing around on Won’t Let You Down; there is serious songwriting expertise deployed here, and deeply satisfying, layered production, perfect for a late night with the big headphones in the dark. Every song is nearly perfect; I could take up the whole magazine trying to describe how the ways they aren’t make them more interesting.
Lake Street Dive deserve their success, and Kearney’s voice and songwriting have served them well over the years. But Won’t Let You Down is something else entirely — more personal, adventurous and odd in all the right ways. Kearney is an incurable, but skeptical, romantic; under the perfect pop sheen there’s something complex and disquieting lurking.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 218.