Audio Mixers: Katie Gately; Sam Jones.
Photographer: Robert Wedemeyer.
Even before she released her first album, Katie Gately's music generated a lot of excitement, and rightfully so. On her singles and EPs, the former sound design student used her training in highly creative ways, manipulating and layering found sounds and her own voice with results that were otherworldly, thought-provoking, and witty at the same time (on "Dead Referee," a track from her self-titled debut EP, she turned a basketball game into a séance). Gately's wit is even more apparent on the full-length Color. Though her Tri Angle debut is easily one of the label's poppiest releases, her experiments remain as bold as ever as she refines the dense vocals and bristling textures of Pipes and Pivot. In fact, Color's funhouse mirror versions of pop might even be more complex than her previous work. From moment to moment, Gately evokes pop rule-breakers like Roisin Murphy and SOPHIE; the kitchen-sink surprises of mainstream pop producers such as Bloodshy & Avant; the audacity of the Art of Noise, and the masterful yet freewheeling arrangements of Carl Stalling. However, Gately's unabashedly maximalist approach is all her own, especially on Color's opening one-two punch. "Lift" begins with the atmospheric sounds of her early work, then pivots quickly to sultry harmonies, rubbery, funky rhythms, and a sung "doot doot doot" hook that's more distinctive than a synth would've been. On the stunning "Tuck," deceptively sweet vocals and spiraling trumpets echo decades of jazzy pop with mysterious, decadent results. Though Color may be superficially more accessible than Gately's previous output, there's still a lot of tension within its tracks. The enmeshed vocals and instrumentation heighten the surrealism on "Sift," where slabs of skull-crushing noise give the impression she's singing from deep within heavy machinery; on "Rive," her voice and writhing strings entwine like a ball of snakes, bringing Color's spooky undercurrent to the fore. Gately prevents listeners from getting too overwhelmed with more spacious songs like the vaguely Middle Eastern "Frisk" and the strangely torchy title track, which sets the album adrift on dark drones. Even on more restrained moments like these, Gately's audacious ideas and artistry make Color a dazzling debut album.