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“It’s definitely a departure,” Margaret Glaspy says of her new record. “I’m leaving a different kind of sonic footprint than I’ve left before.” And what an apt metaphor this is, for if anything’s clear about Devotion, Glaspy’s sophomore full-length release, it’s that she is, as ever, a masterful charter of internal geographies. The results are sure to overturn any expectations listeners enter the album with by the final notes of the last song, for few songwriters are as astute in mapping the tectonics of thought and feeling, and few vocalists as adept at bringing such lyrics to life so uncompromisingly, with such indelibility.
Her reinvented sound on Devotion is unapologetically intrepid and idiosyncratic, with the introduction of the synthesizer and other digital alterations serving to deliver a sonic texture that announces Glaspy’s fearless turn toward new frequencies. Not once does Glaspy’s veering into and mapping out the terrain of this new territory compromise her lyrical dexterity and her vocal power, which remain top of their range and are on full display in songs like “Vicious,” “You’ve Got My Number,” (the album’s most arresting earworm) and “Killing What Keeps Us Alive,” the first single off the album.▼ Article continues below ▼
Each song warrants its own unique soundscape, and it’s clear Glaspy hasn’t written toward anything like a unifying, universal effect here. Far better — to my ears, anyway — for each song to be served by Glaspy’s signature unswervingness; a hard-earned boldness that her listeners have been hearing her develop all the way back to her first self-released endeavors.
After touring heavily in support of 2016’s Emotions and Math, her first full-length album, and her follow-up EP Born Yesterday, Glaspy says she was feeling a little glum. She wasn’t as prolific as she once was, and she began to feel her growth was being stunted. “It was such a shift for me that I didn’t know what to do with myself when I closed that chapter,” she says. “I was feeling pretty shy, and I knew I needed to create a new direction for myself.” Thus: a recalibration. She set out to conceptualize what her sophomore album might look like, committed and intent on challenging herself in every arena of music-making.
The resulting fruits of reinvention are some of her most dynamic, confident, and compelling songs to date. “It took me the better part of the last few years to understand how to make this music and still feel comfortable in my own vocabulary on these instruments,” she says. “You go left or right and it can feel kind of contrived, so you really have to just dial in. It’s been a journey, for sure.”
At the other end of this journey is Devotion, which features some of her most dynamic, confident, and compelling songs to date.
If there’s anything Glaspy has learned in the process of recalibration and reorientation, it’s been to embrace the unknown and undiscovered rather than fall in line with whatever felt prescribed for her. “It has been amazing to be able to stretch out, to not define myself just by the music I make, but to follow my nose toward all the things that make me happy,” she says.
The reinvention that Devotion signals was made possible with the help of Glaspy’s friend, L.A.-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Chester, whom she enlisted to produce Devotion. “Tyler and I proved to be a very good match in the studio,” she says. “I love being very hands-on with my records and he was a force of nature without restricting my sense of what the record should be.” They also brought in Glaspy’s touring drummer Tim Kuhl to complete the picture with his artful understanding of the kit paired with Chester’s programming. Brooklyn based engineer Mark Goodell captured these performances masterfully and James Krausse (Los Angeles) mixed Devotion in a way that Glaspy says “she has always envisioned her music sounding like.”
About the record itself, Glaspy says, “This record is very different from the last. It’s not about being righteous or all-knowing, it’s about letting love in even when you don’t know what will happen when you do. It’s about devoting your heart to someone or something, against all odds.” Nowhere are these sentiments echoed as directly as in the title track, in which Glaspy sings, “Baby, I’m on your side/It’s a sign of my devotion/When I show you my emotions.” Further commenting on Devotion, Glaspy says, “I’m learning that life is painful but you take the bad with the good; that love is hard but if you love someone, you make yourself available; that life is short and it’s okay to be sincere. I’m starting to be able to write about these things and it’as a feat for myself as an artist and growth for me as a person.”
What sticks long after our interview has ended is Glaspy’s personal definition of songwriting and her take on what she wants to be as a songwriter. “Songwriting is a source of mythology,” she says. “It’s what we leave behind. The in-between is ever present…” If Devotion is any sign, those of us in the in-between can always expect something new and something true from Margaret Glaspy.
photos by Josh Goleman