Rachel Mousie releases her new album, Talk To Your Babies, on October 7th. The eleven-track collection shrewdly reimagines folky allegories and nostalgic aphorisms into a self-reflective protest album. Her first full length release in 6-years, the deliberate angular focus of each song demonstrates how cohesive an artist can become working for as much time on new material.
Those familiar with Mousie's music will immediately recognize the eerie minimalist piano arpeggios and sparse hand percussion. Mousie's warm evocative vocals and sly poetry are in the spotlight. The compression on the piano, recorded live into Mousie's looper in the Corbett Studio at WGUC, pushes the tones into your ears like a gained-up keyboard through a PA system. Most of the ambient space is provided by the piano room and engineer Rick Andress's creative use of Space Echo decay.
On the second track collaborator Michael Ronstadt is introduced on cello. At his best adding plucked bass and colorful legato pads throughout the album, he's also shrewdly framed when he's featured, as on "I Can Do What You Can Do": his echo-drenched percussive bow-slaps provide a stark counterpoint to Mousie's (acerbically sarcastic) youthful vocals and delicate piano work.
One of a healthy crop of practiced loop artists in Cincinnati (see Kate Wakefield, Jennifer Simone, A Delicate Motor, etc.), Mousie uses the effect as a centerpiece for the album, creating a vibrant full-band sound built from vocal loops with very little auxiliary instrumentation. Swaths of soulful harmonies animate the space traditionally filled by a jazzy synth arrangement. Particularly on the title track, "Talk To Your Babies", the process gives the recording a live, in-the-room feel, and emphasises the immediacy and intimacy of the simple, nuanced lyrics: "Talk to your babies. / Let them know that they gotta be nice and quiet."
Some themes are less subtle, as in "Capable Young Bodies", an ode to exploited child workers, or maybe a eulogy for collective action - either way it’s by far the darkest point in the album: “Somebody’s gotta come and make them hear reason. / Who can we ask with the capable young bodies?” At the heart of the collection is the tear-jerker “Make Sure You Stay Warm”. Here, Mousie's sentimentality is apocalyptic: "We will see the oceans. / We will breathe the weight of this." Even at its most hopeful, any positivity gleaned from the album is only a promise for an end to the pain, as echoed in the postlogue “This Much Light.” “And to be true I’ll tell you/ far away doesn’t seem so impossible.”
The songs are simply structured build-ups, with a lot of content packed into mostly three-minute tunes - any one of which could hypothetically land on the next Hunger Games sequel soundtrack. Taken as a whole, though, the album reflects on the adage that cultural change requires individual reform: artfully correlating the listener’s frustrations towards insurmountable social issues with their own internal moral scruples.