Published Oct 09, 2019Common Holly's second album, When I Say to You Black Lightning, feels like a worthy successor to her debut, Playing House. There are clear commonalities in the two: both feature mastermind Brigitte Naggar's predilection for metaphor rather than personal detail in her sonorously spooky, spare folk, and both feel imminent and intimate.
When I Say to You Black Lightning is broader, though, offering space to accompany Naggar as she ruminates on kindness, sadness, anger, self-delusion, hope and fear. Naggar's sound is more expansive, too, more assured in its weirdness: the songs lurch along with their subdued drums and distorted, sheeny guitars that sound the way an '80s VHS tape looks.
Naggar's dark, creaky sound is compelling, especially alongside her wise, generous lyrics. On "You Dance," sirens ominously scream behind a sinister guitar, creating a metaphor for panic and fear. Naggar's voice then arrives to repeat, "Don't be afraid," and "Don't freak out."
There's plaintive sobriety on "Measured," a quietly layered and softly whirring track on which Naggar hums and sings, "You unbuttoned your shirt and I looked at your heart / Then you showed me your lungs / Yeah, you pulled them apart." The image seems to contain the song's eventual chorus, but when it comes, it still compels: "Oh, I think we've been measured out for pain since birth."
Although When I Say to You Black Lightning sounds dark, its concern for kindness engenders kinship with Naggar, rather than alienation. There's an effortless authenticity in her voice that, along with the lyrics and moody tone, offer the listener space to feel anger, sadness, confusion, fear and ultimately hope.
The album, in this way, is much like its title, When I Say to You Black Lightning: a directive that invites the listener to fill in what Naggar has initiated or gestured toward; it's a risky invitation, in that it requires effort and attention from the listener, but Naggar's rickety orchestration, imagistic lyrics and posture of kindness ensure that it never feels like effort, so much as a joyful, sad, funny, wise conversation with close, thoughtful friend. (Royal Mountain Records)