Kathrn Calder: 'Bright and Vivid'

Kathryn Calder

Bright and Vivid (File Under Music)

For a singer with a voice this gorgeous, for a songwriter with melodies this striking, Kathryn Calder sure does like noise. "One, Two, Three," which opens this wonderful sophomore album, buries its pristine preciousness in a junkyard of filth—discarded rays of e-bow, distorted crunch, and a melted halo of reverb that lathers every inch of her youthful chirp. If Bright and Vivid continued at that sluggish pace, the effect would have grown tiresome at 40-plus minutes. Fortunately, Calder knows her limits, mostly sticking to the big-hearted psych-pop she crafts so well.

Calder is the long-lost niece of New Pornographers mastermind Carl Newman, which makes sense, considering her knack for melodies that wander in melancholy circles yet punch straight to the gut. Once upon a time, Calder filled in for the honey-voiced Pornographers siren Neko Case; now a full-time member for the band's past three albums, Calder's clearly surpassed that one-time role as a second-rate substitute. Though Case still functions as an obvious reference point—both in terms of vocals and off-kilter arrangements (both adore steel guitars)—Bright and Vivid is far more insular and trippy than anything Case has ever attempted. Which, ultimately, requires patience—more than many Porno fans might have. These songs are densely, impressively overdubbed (check the stunning "Right Book," with its subtle programmed rhythms and chiming guitar layers), but Calder's at her finest when she loosens the reins; the acoustic stunner "Leave a Light On" might be the year's finest pop lullaby.