Whether paradoxes or purgatory, liminal states of existence make people uneasy. Most folks like their status quo binary world of black or white, not black and white or, for heaven’s sake, GREY. That would be sheer chaos wrapped in pure madness for those who can’t even handle circles in their square lives.
Well, with Karaoke Angel, Molly Sarlé has created the perfect soundtrack for a grey, circular, both/and world. Brimming with timeless music backing timely messages, Karaoke Angel manages to be high brow and lo-fi, plain and poetic, uncomfortable and comforting all at once. Just like real life — the one not pictured on Instagram — these songs are complex rather than clean. Sarlé knows and, therefore, confesses what few are willing to say in the false reality perception of social media perfection.
Song after song, Sarlé reveals her own breaks and bruises, eventually saying outright that “I’m far from knowing what I’m doing here” in the captivating coda that is “Passenger Side.” Back at the top, in the gorgeous throwback folk-rock of “Human,” is where all this stark humanity starts, though: “Well, who hasn’t talked to God like he’s a man? I do it all the time on accident. Sometimes I talk to you that way and I’m sorry, baby. ‘Cause it’s me. I made you in my image and, if I asked you to understand that I see what I see. I don’t see what I can’t.” That’s just… so good.
In between those two benchmarks, a lot happens. While the ambient swirls and atmospheric guitars of “This Close” recall the War on Drugs, Sarlé’s lyrics really lift this one to other levels, as well, with, ironically, a mention of drugs: “When everything happens at once and that’s what we love, are we really this close? Or is it just the drugs?”
Further in, somehow, with little more than her voice and guitar, she takes on both existential questions with earthly answers and earthly questions with existential answers on “Almost Free” and comes out the other side. Meanwhile, the somber, sacred feel of “Twisted” comes off like experimental, hymnal-based performance art.
Molly Sarlé’s Karaoke Angel is chock full of remarkable lines and mesmerizing performances. When, in “Dreams,” she sings, “I’ve been working on a version of the truth. I think you’re gonna like it. Call it a song you can sing along to,” she’s not lying. Her truth is that it’s all a liminal state, every moment, and it’s lovely.