Could Have Done Anything
POLYVINYL/DOUBLE DOUBLE WHAMMY
“The sunsets in Phoenix never go out of style” Charlotte Cornfield sings at the top of her new album Could Have Done Anything. It’s not the only sunset we witness on this, the Canadian songwriter’s fifth record. The whole thing, in fact, is a sunset of sorts; stark, reliable, and unfussy—a chaste, often-beautiful ending that feels anything but final.
Cornfield has been producing music like this for a while now, and seems to be very nearly mastering her brand of sunset folk. It’s music that goes down incredibly easy, the work of an artist with charm to spare and whose labor is all but invisible. Is this insistence on ease and effortlessness a bit of a back-handed compliment? Maybe—but the further you dig into an album like Could Have Done Anything, the more you realize how much work it takes to sound this casual, and how much of a joy it is to see an artist continue to come into their own.
Part of this criticism, light and toothless as it is, might have something to do with the similarities between this and Cornfield’s equally powerful 2021 predecessor Highs in the Minuses. That record was my first experience with Cornfield’s songwriting, and I was almost immediately taken, hooked as much by the easygoing confidence as the honey-sweet arrangements. On a surface level there’s not much difference between the two records, as Cornfield again shows a preternatural way with breezy melodies and clever phrasing. You can, however, hear the influence of indie producer-of-the-moment Josh Kaufman, who somehow makes this collection even more lush and winsome than its predecessors.
What does feel different is Cornfield’s willingness to strike at nerves she might have avoided in the past. A song like “The Magnetic Fields,” raw and gaunt, uses a night out at the titular band’s show to frame a love story of aching sincerity. “I thought if I said you were evil, I would get over it easier,” she sings even as the song surrounding those lines makes it clear how futile an effort that remains. Almost every track on Could Have Done Anything focuses on a “you” of one sort or another, and while it’s unclear whether this is one person or a composite, it’s hard to classify this as anything but a break-up record.
That’s not to say that Cornfield leans into dramatics here. She’s still as funny and charismatic as ever, but the accumulation of moments—both harrowing and heartening—creates a picture of something that’s ended, for better or for worse. “I’ll dream of the memory of you leaving,” she sings on “I Dream Of,” moments before the title track takes us back to a time long before leaving was a concern, before the sun started to set.