Katie Dey sounds a little less alone. The Australian singer-songwriter has fought hard to reach this state since she first released her glitch-scoured debut asdfasdf back in 2015. She began her career making music that captured the hollow, gloomy feeling of spending too much time online—frustrated, keyboard-smashing pop songs about solipsism, disconnect, and feeling deeply misunderstood. Her voice was often pitch-shifted beyond recognition, analog and electronic instrumentation swirled together in a chaotic fog. Even at its most beautiful, Dey’s twisted-up indie pop was tense and overwhelming. On her self-released fifth album, forever music, she steps away from the bleak feelings that clouded her early work, singing about the possibility of love and the sudden appeal of perseverance when you have something or someone worth living for.
Inspired by the flowering of an “internet relationship,” she began to explore these feelings on mydata. She presented her voice more clearly, opening up about the trials and tribulations of a connection mediated by the internet. On forever music she goes even further, stripping down the electronic experimentation in favor of simpler, gentler arrangements of voice, keys, and plodding percussion. She’s said that her voice is deliberately “unfiltered and dry,” which feels like a bold choice for a musician who made her name with digitalist contortions. Yet, this description accurately describes the directness of songs like “unfurl” where Dey sings about trying to be a better person in an evil world. Bare and bold, she reveals more of herself than before, continuing the slow blossoming of her records—each a little more generous and optimistic than the last.
It’s an approach she holds onto even in the heavier moments, like on “real love,” where Dey details memories of “screaming, fighting, constant violence.” And yet, the song soars with a fragile, futuristic beauty, like a Disney ballad produced by A.G. Cook. Eventually, she realizes that “inner peace lies waiting” for her, marking a distinct change in mindset. In the past, she might have just sulked amid the devastation, but now there’s a reason for pressing onward, for looking for the little cracks where the light shines into the darkness.
The record is full of these little moments of clarity. On “fuckboy,” she offers that someone might “find a better way of growing older.” “impossible” is built around the mantra-like insistence on taking “one more step.” And on the lush, lilting title track, Dey sings of learning to “live without killing my heart.” These moments feel true because of the casual directness of her vocal melodies, the result of a songwriter who’s done a lot of soul-searching in tough times. But what makes these songs most striking isn’t the positivity alone, but how hard-won these realizations are.
The unadorned arrangements give Dey the space to conjure some real emotional weight. Her voice carries desperation, weariness, and then, eventually, joy. While she once concealed the special contours of her instrument, the production of forever music lets her evoke both the bad times and the good, lending depth to the darkness and real color to the moments where she realizes she might make it through. While each of Dey’s records has been a little brighter than the last, forever music feels like the first to offer real hope. It’s easy to imagine it comforting lonely searchers, offering them the courage to trudge on, at least for one more step.
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