Kathryn Calder’s second crack at a solo album should hold up as an example on how to change your sound while still retaining your essence as a musician. Bright And Vivid takes enough elements from both Calder’s debut, Are You My Mother?, and her work as part of the New Pornographers to retain its very Calder-ness, while still evolving into a robust folk-pop record. The sound here is fuller and more electronic than her debut, yet it’s still covered in the singer’s sweet voice in a way that no New Porno songs are (except maybe “Sweet Talk Sweet Talk”). One need only look at the second track on Bright And Vivid, “Who Are You?”, to see the evolution of Kathryn Calder, solo artist: Musically, the track is much more complex and layered than anything on her previous record, but the singing is just as swooning as it has been in the past. The track is full of Calder’s harmonizing, including the simple three-word titular chorus. It’s a simple vocal track that shines because of its underlying musical ruckus.
Mid-album standout “All The Things” clocks in as the longest track in Calder’s solo catalog, at exactly six minutes, yet it doesn’t feel dragged on or boring. Starting with a swirling rush of noise and a soft-playing guitar, the track then skitters into an electronic folk (think Bob Dylan’s least popular moment, but good) before Calder’s voice kicks in, almost ethereal in its placement, far away from the center of the mix. It’s a haunting blend of sound, one that hits as many highs (if not more) than anything found on Are You My Mother?, all in the first three minutes. That’s when the song shifts gears, into a guitar-pickin’ ditty that throws Calder’s voice right back into the listener’s face. It’s a sign of the evolution of her songwriting and composer skills, as the track feels like two separate suites linked together organically. The fact that it rocks out at the close is only a bonus.
There are moments like this throughout Bright And Vivid, moments that showcase how far Kathryn Calder has come in just over a year. While this album lacks the “debut solo release!” pizazz that came with the previous record, it makes up for it with a radical shift in sound that more musicians should look at when making a sophomore album. That’s where this record’s strength lies: It manages to be so different that you may forget it’s a Kathryn Calder album until you hear her uniquely angelic voice. And as the final track, “Younger Than We’ve Ever Been,” drums out, it’s clear that Calder will not be a one-album solo artist. No, she’s joined her bandmates from New Pornographers in crafting a solo career as rewarding and enjoyable as anything the band has crafted in the past.