If you’re looking for words to describe Kathryn Calder’s sophomore set, you could definitely do worse than “bright” and “vivid.” Calder’s follow-up to last year’s occasionally somber Are You My Mother? maintains some of the melancholy of its predecessor but trades the intimacy of its modest arrangements for bigger and occasionally blinding flourishes of electronic grandeur. Lead single “Who Are You?” is perhaps the best example of the album’s dynamic, all awash in day-glo harmonic vocal samples and belching electronic bass. It’s a shining moment where the former cog in The Immaculate Machine turned New Pornographer slots all the pieces of her evolving aesthetic perfectly into place.
Which is not to say that the rest of the album doesn’t also benefit from its more elaborate production. “New Frame of Mind” really makes the most of Calder’s soothing alto during its quieter passages. Her multi-tracked vocals get brushed out to a hazy soft focus, warm and diffuse as sunlight, striking a delightful contrast to the unexpectedly violent musings of the chorus, ”How many throats will be cut till I see/ What is beyond the breach?” On the opposite end of the spectrum is the chilly “The Book.” The track, heavy on electronic texture, leaves Calder adrift in an alienating no-man’s land of repetitive percussive loops, synth-toned moans of heavily processed vocals, and varying layers of keyboard effects. And, if there was any doubt, she proves that she can still work some magic with her more familiar tools. “Turn a Light On” returns to her debut’s home turf, beginning as a gentle, country-tinged ballad that winds up to an unexpectedly grand finish.
Bright and Vivid is a solid follow-up, one that delivers the same catchy songwriting as Calder’s debut while simultaneously opening her work up to a broader instrumental pallet. Like a lot of indie pop records, the offerings here are fairly hit-or-miss, with some of the tracks coming off as saccharine (“Walking in My Sleep”) or aimless (“All the Things”), but the scales tip comfortably in her favor. It should be more than sufficient to hold indie kids over between now and the next New Pornographers joint.