Katy Kirby, “Cool Dry Place”

Katy Kirby
Cool Dry Place
KEELED SCALES
7/10

Searching is a key aspect of Katy Kirby’s debut album Cool Dry Place. It’s evident in how sentiently her writing is anchored. She’s observant of little things, various smells and surfaces help make sense of the people around her. She measures her relationships as a broken window pane opening a door on “Portals,” and explores the mintiness of receding friendships on “Peppermint.” Vivid metaphors aside, there are questions of power, a latent searching for trust and resolution. Kirby hovers between understanding her own relationships and her relationship to the world, giving us songs imbued with excitement in the unknown.

Kirby has discussed her intense religious upbringing, recently loosening her grip on those beliefs. She’s joked that such an intensity has poured over into other aspects of her life. No molecule is too small or insignificant and no measure of time is wasted. Cool Dry Place feels special because Kirby conveys the magic of discovery. Like finding an abandoned cave with a faded, unknown language written on the walls; it might be hundreds of years old or scribblings of recent drifters washed out by the sun. Her songs delight in precious details, and she allows them to be equally mystified and then debunked. 

The arrangements of Cool Dry Place are as stellar as the lyrics. Kirby slowly ushers us into her songwriting with tactile language and sparse instrumentation. But as we continue through these nine tracks, the emotions become more complicated and wrought. She makes it clear that she can command your attention with both silence or a collision of electric guitars. Whether it’s the vocal manipulation on “Traffic!” or the bright burst of horns and shadowy guitar work on “Peppermint,” it’s equally exciting to see how she’ll bend mundane objects or fracture the basic structure of a rock song.  

Take the slow-burning “Portals,” where Kirby opens with “I’m an alternate universe in Target lingerie / You’re a country song in three-four time.” A piano holds her up as she recounts two beings interlocking and separating. Limbs form shapes and soon converge into a whole. As strings and shattered glasses tinker in the background, Kirby makes the connection of two souls something awesome, but also imperfect. She explained that “the idea of ‘Portals’ is just a nod to this notion that transformation is almost always painful.”  The grace and clarity equates to a magnetic conviction—a formidable softness. 

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