The last time Philthy caught up with Charlene Kaye she was in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for an upcoming album. Her goal was $20,000, at the time the article ran she had raised $24,750, and by the end of the 30-day run she had raised $33,000. That was last July. The album itself, Animal Love, drops today. However, the music found on it has been in the works for quite some time, since well before even the Kickstarter campaign began. When I interviewed Charlene last June, she told me:
“It’s a concept album about how we, as humans, instinctively process the emotion of love, how it relates to our physicality, and how we are equipped to survive when it’s lost… It pertains to romantic love, but also a lust for life… I’m really interested in this idea of the sublime and how to achieve that sonically.”
Animal Love is quite a bit different from Charlene’s last LP, Things I Will Need in the Past, which she released in 2008 and which I’ve described as “Along the lines of an acoustic record from Chrissie Hynde at her most whimsical.” Her latest is far more playful. It contains synthesizers, drum samples, and plenty of electric guitars, giving the sound quite a bit more volume (in both senses of the word). However, it’s not quite as raw as its title would imply.
The rawness of Animal Love would seem to lie in Charlene laying her soul bare on many of its tracks. However, the album is far from lacking in polish. This is most evident on the album’s two eponymous tracks. The first of which (“Animal Love I”), which kicks off the album, begins as a sassy R&B number before plummeting into something resembling the peppiest of 1960s girl groups, with Charlene proclaiming “Let your bones show, let your bones show.” The second of these eponymous tracks (“Animal Love II”) is an epic exercise in vintage soul, gloriously scoring a heartbreak in a manner somehow uplifting (I mean, not quite in as glorious a manner as Bono is known for, but it could definitely soundtrack the non-fairy-tale-ending of any Hollywood film… While we’re parenthetically discussing film soundtracks, have a listen to track 8, “Don’t Make Me Believe,” and tell me it doesn’t sound perfect as a Disney theme… oh, and thank you, Lena Dunham, for finally making it okay to discuss things “parenthetically.”)
I never thought I would say this about anything, but the album’s strongest tracks would seem to be those inspired by Ms. Kaye’s time working with musical theatre. After all, she is a great-friend-of and frequent-collaborator-with Glee’s Darren Criss and she has toured with StarKid (With whom she will be opening for and playing guitar alongside at the TLA on June 5th, as part of their Apocalyptour.) “Hummingbird Heart” and “Poison Apple,” which come about mid-way through Animal Love, both ring of something that deserves a chorus line, whose pep and pop seem to grow exponentially with their discontent… they’re certainly not downers… but they should be. And the chorus of “Hummingbird Heart” gets my vote for the year’s best popular expression of existential dissatisfaction:
“Who says you can’t live forever?
Shine down your light, it’s now or never
And you said baby watch your head
Look at the crowd, they love you now
But come morning you’ll be left for dead.”