On her 2021 sophomore album as L’Rain, Fatigue, Taja Cheek bridged lushly arranged set pieces of psychedelic pop with brief bursts of raw, lo-fi voice recordings. A kind of behind-the-scenes series of sketches in the form of voice memos, these interludes offered a transparent but somewhat disorienting look into L’Rain’s process. Those sketches were often the first step in the process of creating the intricate and otherworldly soundscapes that comprised the album, but where the album’s actual songs served as teleportation into gorgeously unfamiliar locales—immersive and beautifully rendered planes beyond the known world—those solitary recordings provided a tether back to the real world, sometimes heartbreakingly so: a direct line back to the flesh-and-blood human crafting these fantastical dioramas in sound.
The landscapes that Cheek crafts on follow-up I Killed Your Dog are as stunningly rendered as ever, but they also increasingly resemble a more recognizable form of pop music, reducing the distance between here and her most astonishing works of sonic architecture. The album’s lead single, “Pet Rock,” is her purest three minutes of pop to date, swirling with hypnotic guitar harmonies and a melodic bassline serving as its gravitational center. Yet in its immediacy, “Pet Rock” proves evasive in subtle ways, its structure evading pop’s verse-chorus framework in favor of a linear trip into a kind of macabre surrealism, evoking images of a dead person on a train made to pass as an ordinary passenger: “Like a dead girl with shades on/Propped up by captors.”
Suffice it to say, L’Rain maintains an unconventional perspective even when entertaining the possibility of a more direct approach. Though that shouldn’t be confused for simpler; the softly intricate guitar plucks of “5 to 8 Hours a Day (WWwaG)”, for instance, suggest the ease of a folk lullaby, but remains in a state of constant escalation, building up tension via an expanding arrangement of bass, trumpet and skittering, drum ‘n’ bass beats. The gentle piano chords of “Our Funeral” provide a gentle backdrop for endtimes fears before a frequency drop builds up a sumptuous psych-jazz mushroom cloud. And despite the heavy hitting rhythmic current of “Uncertainty Principle,” it’s what swirls up around it that provides most of the movement, woozy synthesizers and peals of distortion caught up in an awe-inspiring tempest.
I Killed Your Dog, much like its predecessor, features brief snapshots of interludes between L’Rain’s more ornate compositions, though this time around they feel almost like miniature pieces of abstract art. The four-second vibe of “Oh Wow a Bird” feels like Boards of Canada with a punchline, and the carnivalesque pitch-shifted sing-along of “I Hate My Best Friends” feels substantial enough to have a few more minutes added to its 68 seconds. And when a friend tries to identify a jazz song on “What’s That Song?”, that very song seems to materialize from thin air. Though L’Rain often speaks through a kind of gorgeous abstraction, she imbues the songs on I Killed Your Dog with a humor and playfulness, anthropomorphizing oblique shapes and giving them life.
Label: Mexican Summer
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.