Review: Petal, ‘Shame’
Summer is over and I never had the chance to enjoy the middle temperatures that I’ve grown so fond of. We’ve gone from blistering hot to numbingly cold in the matter of a few weeks, and that is heartbreaking. The middle of the road, mid-Fall weather has always served as welcome reminder and annual backbone for a shift in the music that I’m listening to. Last year, that shift happened to coincide perfectly with the release of Moose Blood’s debut album, ‘I’ll Keep You In Mind, From Time to Time’ and this year, although the transition has been more internal than it has external, it’s been greeted by the warmth of Petal’s debut full-length album ‘Shame.’
For those of you that are unfamiliar, Petal is Kiley Lotz and friends. The line-up is like a revolving door of bands that you’ve definitely heard of and probably love. At it’s core, Petal is made up of Kiley along with Ben and Brianna from Tigers Jaw. And with that, there are bound to be some qualities of the music that spill over from one project to the next. Thankfully, this is a scenario that benefits from the spillage. There is an inarguable feeling of warmth tied to the music of Tigers Jaw, and it’s that same warmth, paired with Kylie’s incredible knack for expression and soaring vocals, that has helped to make Petal feel like the powerhouse that it is.
I was shocked when I heard “Sooner” back in September, not because I didn’t believe this band was going to be good, but because they are incredible and nobody had told me what I was missing out on. “Sooner” is huge and packed to the brim with emotion. I was sold the second I heard Kylie’s vocals soar while she sang, “please don’t leave sooner than you have to” for the first time. I’m happy to report that the rest of ‘Shame’ follows the trajectory set by its introductory single.
From the crashing cymbals that introduce us to the record on “Camera Lens” to the emotionally resonant and high-flying bare-bones finale that we’re given on “Silly Heart,” it’s clear that Petal went into this record on a mission. That mission being to create something that they could be proud of and that would immediately resonate with listeners, and goddammit, I’d be a liar if I said they failed.
One early track that stands out after countless listens is “Tommy.” Sonically, the song is up-tempo, and certainly doesn’t mirror the jilted feeling of loss that the lyrics convey. The subject matter is immediate right from the chorus, a soft “dead skin, piercing light through my eyes, through my spine. Catch a glimpse of a flicker and I try. And you are not here in my bed tonight. You never will be, Tommy” is followed by “I forgot your eyes and I forgot your hair and I forgot you entirely. The fall from Diamond Gap, the ravages of time. If you don’t jump then I’ll be fine.” If you aren’t paying much attention to the lyrics, the song could come across as pining for a distant or unrequited love, but it dives so much deeper than that. It’s a brilliantly executed story of loss, showcasing both the highs and the lows that can come from that, and it manages to do so all in one breath.
Which makes for the eeriest and most heart-wrenching transition into “Heaven.” The first line of the song is “You are Heaven to me/I’ll write it in our babies books/so they don’t regret how they’re born.” I don’t know how much of this pairing is intentional, but it’s a true work of genius. I’m also unsure of how much of the lyrical content is fact or fiction, and how much of what comes from the perspective of the songwriters, but based on the final lines of “Tommy,” I am assuming the song is not written from the perspective of either Lotz or [Brianna] Collins.
Those last lines read “You won’t work in the factory and I’ll stop stripping and I won’t leave if you won’t leave, if you don’t leave, Tommy” and “Heaven” could easily be the continuation of that character’s ideas, only now in regards to the birth of a child post-loss. The songs are great on their own, but in the context of the record, especially since they’re placed back-to-back, they’re phenomenal.
“Nature” shows Petal taking a risk, and it is also Petal making that risk look like child’s play. The whole of the song is a drumbeat with Kiley singing over top of it. On the first listen, you’ll grow anxious for the rest of the music to pick up. It’s an unfamiliar territory that Petal has taken us into. Things only start to pick up with the addition of Brianna Collins vocals working in sweet, sweet harmony with Lotz’s. This is the most bare-bones of the songs on ‘Shame’ and somehow, it seems to hold the most weight. The emotion is directly derived from what Lotz and Collins have decided to pour into it, and with the lyrics so creatively telling the story of a one-sided love, it’s hard to not immediately be captivated. “I wanna be made out of the nature you were born from” is the send off of the song, seeing itself repeated threefold before the song concludes. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate summation of my thoughts on this record.
‘Shame’ just soars. The record is full of sorrow and heartbreak, and with a healthy variety of tempo to keep things interesting. Petal feels comfortable enough in the environment of their full-length debut to give us some of their most experimental material to date, and somehow it all just works. This record feels cohesive and attached, like each song is right where it belongs, as if they’re all chapters to a much larger story. It’s like they’re pieces to an all-important puzzle. In regards to the creativity that has been brought to the table with ‘Shame,’ I too, “want to be made out of the nature you were born from.” Because that nature, whatever it is, has created one of the most impressive albums of 2015.