Is Kat Dahlia a witch? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: She is a witch, and she is a girl, and she is a lovestruck teenager and a streetwise woman, she is a thousand different shades in a single body and she is amazing.
“My Garden,” the title track on this album, is a slinky, grinding incantation, and I wouldn’t say that this video sets the tone for the album as much as it sets the tone for Kat Dahlia’s presence in your life. She’s a terrifying goddess, just look at her – wrapped in snakes, wreathed in flowers, crowned and darkly radiant. I feel like Kat Dahlia is really into Medusa, and I feel like she should be.
The album itself is sultry, I think. It reminds me of dark red flowers, the ocean at night. There are bright upbeat threads running through it, moments of pure sweetness like “I Think I’m In Love,” and they don’t conflict with the velvety darkness that is the rest of it; they somehow make it more complete. Even those brighter songs have that soft roundedness to them, a roundedness that I hesitate to call darkness, because it isn’t. They feel grounded, I think is the word that I want, and a lot of that is Kat Dahlia’s incredible voice.
As a girl who has a relatively deep voice I am drawn, perhaps selfishly, to other girls with deep voices as sort of a validation. So much of pop music is dominated by a certain type of voice (which I love! I am not at all opposed to it!) that it is nice, sometimes, to hear someone in a lower octave. And I think that depth offers something different, something that I find very soothing and appealing. Kat Dahlia has a deep voice. More than that, though, she has this incredibly expressive, dynamic, weird voice. It’s weird! And I mean that in the best way. Listen to “My Garden” again, listen to the way she stutters out that my flower bed’s callin’ your na-a-a-ame, na-a-a-ame. It’s the vocal equivalent of static, of some kind of heart palpitation, a quick dark flutter that almost sounds robotic but isn’t. Every single song on this album manages to sound entirely different from the last one, which can be a challenge for a pop album, and I think that is primarily a credit to Dahlia’s voice. She has a mesmerizing ability to twist her vocals into living, breathing, glowing things.
Kat Dahlia contains many different women, and all of them are present on this album – well, okay, a bunch of them are present and maybe when she writes more music we’ll learn that there are even more sides to her. But she is multifaceted and complicated and very aware of that, and she writes to highlight it. “Gangsta” is an anthem of her youth, growing up in Miami as the first-generation child of Cuban immigrants. It is weary, somehow, but defiant, and it feels like clenched teeth as you walk forward into blinding light. I do it all on myself, I ain’t gettin’ help from no one – from no one. She released that one early, before the album, and it put her on the map. As well it should have! I think Kat Dahlia is tough before I think anything else about her, and that is calculated on her part but that doesn’t make it untrue. “Gangsta” situates her as a young woman of color in the musical world she inhabits, and it puts her agenda on the table. It’s so good; it’s so powerful. And then you trip forward a few tracks and suddenly everything is sweetness and light, bubblegum and Sunday swings.
“I Think I’m In Love” is notable, for me, because it is such a good encapsulation of the weird line between posturing and genuineness in emotions, like, the no-man’s land between “we don’t have a label, we’re just figuring things out” and anything you’re willing to call real. I make fun of your belly and tell you to do some crunches and you say “yeah well, your ass jiggles, go and do some lunges,” I say “FUCK YOU” while I’m thinkin’ of you as my husband. Like. Liiiike. Listen to that little lilt her voice does, thinkin’ of you, listen to the smile in it. We’re teasing each other, that smile says, because we’re too afraid to say how in love we are. But she can’t stop herself from thinking it, and that smile says she knows he thinks it too. How perfectly incredible, how small and sweet and simple, how utterly charming, how painfully real.
I could go on and on about this multiplicity, this presentation of so many different selves. We see the Kat Dahlia that lives in two worlds as a Cuban-American in “Tumbao”, we see the brokenhearted bitter girl in “Just Another Dude”, we see an aching, yearning lover in “Walk on Water”. Each new song is another facet of this gem and no two are alike. Every track on this album occupies a radically different space in the conception of Kat Dahlia as a whole, and I think that is such a feat, such an incredible demonstration of self-understanding and of musical ability. I appreciate this effort so much, is what I’m saying, this presentation of a self that is both calculated and shockingly honest. I came across this album literally a week ago, but already I know it by heart. Kat Dahlia is a new presence in my life but I have a feeling she’s going to stick around, and I really can’t wait to see what she does next. I really can’t wait to see what other magic she contains.