Listening Party: Blacksage's 'Basement Vows' is bleak but beautiful

City Paper

On April 17, Blacksage tweeted: “‘Sixtape’ was two lovers in a garden of inhibition. ‘Basement Vows’ is them realizing its actually a graveyard.” No sense in trying to craft a better thesis than that. Where “Sixtape” ventured into the depths of the obsession and kinky sex of love in your young twenties, “Basement Vows” looks over the exquisite corpse of the relationship now that it’s over.

For the duo of singer Josephine Olivia and producer Drew Scott, the members of Blacksage who are also at the center of the romance on full display, that means forging ahead as a band while putting some of your more personal shit into the world. What we get is an album that finds the two continuing to develop and explore as musicians, even if they’ve grown apart as romantic partners.

“Basement Vows” still bears a lot of the traits from the duo’s debut that made them one of the city’s most exciting young bands; its gothic-tinged beats are eminently danceable and Olivia’s hiccuping coo allures. Here, they find a little bit of walking room in that dynamic, while Scott’s productions have more meat on their skeletal structures. Songs like ‘New Gardens’ and ‘Tell Me’ bubble and pop, moving with more of a clublike thrust. The title track sets aside some of the darker elements of the band’s sound for what feels distinctly more like bubblegum pop.

For her part, Olivia wields her vocal range to outstanding effect, pushing to an operatic falsetto on ‘Casualty’ and almost sinister-sounding lows on ‘Glances.’ The former renders the couple’s breakup—“Take your time/ Make it right/ Give me something warm/Casualty of love”—into something wonderfully pretty.

And that’s really the trick. “Basement Vows” is a breakup album that doesn’t dwell in the bummer sad-sack music of a breakup album, even if it does parse through it lyrically. Opener ‘Stay’ is an aching plea to make things work, sung over an eerie lullaby, but by the end, after the tears have dried (‘Pillow Talk’) and renewed lust (‘Glances’) gives way to fighting (‘Tell Me’), we are returned to that graveyard imagery in ‘New Gardens.’ The subject of the song is dead, coins placed over his closed eyes, and Olivia describes him as “sun-drenched and warm.” It’s a bleak setting, but there’s an inherent beauty in it. 

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