Monday, October 2, 2017

Kittens Slay Dragons - Big Big Heart (2016)

Written by David Shouse, posted by blog admin

Kittens Slay Dragons’ debut release, moreso than most albums, has an agenda. Sarah Donner is the songwriting and vocal force driving the project and her passion for animal rescue informs the creation of this release in a significant way. The vocal pyrotechnics she summons for Big Big Heart’s ten songs underscores her commitment to that practice and the electronica influenced arrangements structuring the songs are warm, fluid, and play nicely to her strengths as a singer. Kittens Slay Dragons features songs that have genuine substance and never come off as preachy in anyway – Donner grounds her songwriting in vulnerabilities and well-worded poetic flourishes that bring the subject matter to life without any self-indulgence. Her collaborator on the project, $hClane!, brings some distinctive percussion to these songs. There’s some organic instrumentation on the album, but its presence is scant and, therefore, all the more effective.

“Gatekeeper” is a perfect choice for Big Big Heart’s opener. It’s interesting throughout the release how Donner’s vividly emotional voice strikes a contrast with the obviously processed sound of synthesizers and electronic bass/drums. Kittens Slay Dragons never confine themselves to one particular sound template when it comes to synths, but there’s an universally bright hue defining the sound of Big Big Heart’s songs that Donner rarely deviates from. The exultant emotional qualities of the material continue on the second song “Castiel” with a strong concentration of synthesizers working through the song. Much of the album can be divided into two distinct types of songs – there are more luxurious, mid-tempo workouts with a focus on the vocals paired up against songs with an emphasis on dynamics and intelligently orchestrated arrangements making the most use of that as possible. “Smile Pretty” is one of the best examples of the latter on Big Big Heart and Donner throws herself into it vocally with eye-popping commitment. It’s one of the best songs on Big Big Heart.

“Love Is Surgery” has uptempo energy unlike anything that’s come before on the album and brings together the aforementioned two approaches into one song. Her ability to bring dramatic and technically accomplished phrasing into a song rich with dynamics makes this an impressive track from the first. The title song moves its focus back to the atmospherics of earlier numbers, but her scope expands here and there’s a feeling of more patient development shaping this composition than we hear on earlier numbers. “Queer and Square”, like many other songs on Big Big Heart, has an awesome chorus that should bring people to their feet or otherwise tightly capture their attention. The rousing quality of that moment is well nigh irresistible. She turns things in a more serious, solemn direction with the song “Symbols in the Sky” and it’s a notable shift in mood without ever taking the track listing and album as a whole completely off track. The album’s second to last track, “Eggs”, is another high point on the release and has a lot of melodic virtues while still demonstrating all the quirkiness that comes with Donner’s individualistic approach. Kittens Slay Dragons is, perhaps, a one off release, but let’s hope not. Sarah Donner has found a potentially important new avenue for her tremendous creativity and there simply isn’t a song on this album that misses.

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