As part of my resignation that I won’t have iTunes back anytime soon I’m forced to either get a new laptop or join the rest of 2019 by using music streaming services.
I ended up picking up a CD from the last concert I reviewed.
Based on the album information La Guerre has been around for some time, going back to at least 2009. This pop duo consists of of Orion Dollar and Katlyn Conroy, and she seems to be or have been everywhere. Part of her resume consists of opening for various bands and even playing in several local bands like Cowboy Indian Bears. She has been recognized locally for her vocals as she was named Pitch’s best female singer /songwriter of 2013. She’s still going strong, and while SAPPHIRES isn’t La Guerre’s latest album (depending on which platform I look at it is either 2014 or 2015) it is certainly a recent work that reflects the creative direction of the group.
The album cover I have. Photography will never be my strong suit.
The physical copy of the album intrigued me, as it felt like a demo with the way it was presented and had blind contour with some line art to appear as some revision. Matching this aesthetic is cursive lettering for cover art as well as the track list on the back. The disc has nothing written on it and looks like it was burned by the artist (on a Memorex disc, no less). It also came with a couple of stickers, which now reside on my change jar.
I like this one.
Overall it has a certain charm, though I think I prefer the cover art for the digital version on bandcamp. That cover seems more fitting for the music on the album.
The digital album cover
So why is the digital cover better suited for this album? The music itself tends to combine clear, emotionally precise vocals with distortions and echos, morose lyrics about loneliness, and polyrhythmic structures. This results in a creations of, at times, rich medley of different styles like experimental and doo wop with melodic imagery (“Mystery of My Bed”, “Everything”, and “Canonfire, Timpanis, Times”). At times La Guerre tries to deviate from this pattern with mixed results. When throaty Katlyn fails to hit the lower notes of her range and it serves as a detriment to her songs (“Deadbolt”) but also works to convey some of the emotional aspects of the song when well planned (“Myster of My Bed”, “She Kept You”, “Everything”). When the phrasing is changed around (“Any Other”, “Matthew”, “Favored”, and “Arrow and Bow”) it’s meant to serve as rhythmic play but sacrifices phrasing to create awkward statements that seem to go nowhere. The endings of the song, while awkwardly ending on a phrase as well, oddly works out in the same way that songs fade off in the end. It implies that, while it seems to go nowhere, it’s going to press forward to no foreseeable end. The multiple colors, textures, and incompleteness needs a fitting cover.
On the other hand I can see why the CD art also fits the music. While I’ll admit I’m probably reading too much into things at this point (I suspect the CD came out first), it does have a feeling that this is a series of demos that tried to come off as polished. The production quality is great for the most part (songs like “She Kept You” crackle on the higher end regardless of the format), but the songs themselves are still raw and lack completeness. There are elements like in “She Kept You” where there are background vocals evoking an angelic choir, but it’s hard to tell if it’s emphasizing “good news” or something else. This goes with the echo effect on “heart”. Then there are distortions in songs like “Two Sisters” that should convey something, but since they only occur at the end feel like it’s done for the sake of being different rather than conveying anything. That is also factoring into how it bleeds into “Everything”. I think more thought given to this would have reduced the eleven songs on the album to fewer, but complete songs.
Despite comparing the album art extensively I was thankful in my research to find a few platforms to compare the sound quality to the CD. One thing worth noting is the amount of loss between the CD and digital copies is noticeable. While some loss is to be expected between the formats it is most noticeable when I found it on Youtube (it actually crackles on some of my headphones, and this includes the decent quality headphones). It isn’t as noticeable on bandcamp, but it certainly lacks the depth in sound quality compared to the CD. I suspect this is the product of something during the transfer screwed up. I also had an issue where one song was a repeat of the previous song on my CD (my copy doesn’t have “Arrow and Bows” because of this), but I am willing to bet that’s my bad luck with technology. If it isn’t, though, I think the best bet is to go with the bandcamp copy. Of the three formats it is probably the best quality while guaranteeing all the songs will be on the album.
I think those in the Lawrence and Kansas City area looking for something different in local indie music will enjoy the clean vocals and familiarity of distortions and other technical delights. In terms of lyrical and composition, however, Katlyn leaves much to be desired on this album. It doesn’t take much to see where she was going artistically, but in leaving it half formed the work feels incomplete in a less than satisfactory manner. There’s no way for the listener to finish the work for oneself because there’s no direction for the music to go but forward into incomplete ideas.
You can check out La Guerre and Katlyn Conroy’s other works on bandcamp. You can also keep up with La Guerre on facebook and instagram.