Used to be, Katie Herzig was a brooding folk singer, rendering emotive ditties with little more than an acoustic guitar and the occasional cello. Nowadays, though, she’s something of an electro-pop maven speaking with synthesizers and drum loops like they were her native language. And the evolution from then to now has really been spectacular to behold.
If you thought The Waking Sleep was a musical trip, you ain’t heard nothing yet. The most recent step in her journey, Walk Through Walls, takes yet another giant stride forward. Here, Herzig puts her personal and professional maturation on display for all to see, perhaps finally arriving at the artistic destination hinted at in The Waking Sleep. Or not.
Love and loss, hope and fear these are the recurring idées fixes that occupy Herzig’s work, and they are reflected in every moment of this effort, from the equable swagger of “Frequencies” to the placid strains of “Proud.” Like the perpetual struggle between darkness and light, the emotional and musical walls Herzig has constructed are comprised of two sides, creating an unceasing friction that is both confusing and cathartic. Only if you are walking through those dark, dense walls can you reach the still point in between and, eventually, come out on the other side into the light of understanding and resolve.
And that’s exactly what is going on here.
Walk Through Walls is confrontational, to be sure. But it’s also clarifying and entirely worth the effort. Song after song, Herzig collocates soaring synths upon meandering melodies to create a multitude of sweepingly evocative pieces. And these studies in contrast convey her message at a primal, cellular level. Starting with “Frequencies,” Herzig could have presented an insouciant, exoteric experience, but she went the other way and a lazy traipse became a surreal adventure. In the penultimate track, the liberating pulse and screams of “Forgiveness” could propel anyone out of a rut or, ahem, through a wall.
That’s not to say there aren’t some easy enough listens here. The title track and “Thick as Thieves” provide a bit of respite for the weary adventurer and both come pretty close in tone to Herzig’s last effort, The Waking Sleep. Set the gentle, lilting chorus of “Thick as Thieves” (co-written with Butterfly Boucher) on loop while you catch your breath and adjust your eyes to the brightness breaking on the horizon. Because it’s there. Double back to “Summer” and “Your Side,” if you have any doubts.
When it’s all sung and done, Walk Through Walls is a full-contact album, a boldly tactile exploit that demands (and deserves!) active engagement on the part of the listener. Be brave. Step up. And run don’t walk to get there.
This review originally appeared on PopMatters.