Whitney Tai releases Apogee, possibly the best indie album of 2020

Back in March, Whitney Tai sent me “Surrender”, a single released from her still-under construction album, Apogee.   I reviewed it, saying that the song, rather than surrendering, is a triumph of power over pain in which her voice explodes like a solar flare with a truth embedded in  lyrics inspired by the pain of a terrible loss in her life.

Along with  the release copy of “Surrender”, Tai included a private copy of the unfinished album, which contained some songs I had heard earlier, like the stunning “The Cure” , and others that were new to me and still raw.  Now that the finished released album is in my hands, all I can do is listen in stunned silence to the sound of a supernova in my headphones.  Apogee is an all-consuming journey through the heart of a dark star andis possibly the best album of 2020.

Tai’s voice is at once a seductive child and a raging Valkyrie and both travel to the star.  Her trademark is delivering seamless blends of scalpel-sharp lyrics, subtle production details and driving vocals that contain both the child and the Valkyrie.  Apogee’s ten songs pull you into her dark star with the gravitational force of a black hole and then fling you into the deep universe of her – and your – vital existence

“Starfish” opens the ‘album like a soft pulse of light from a distant red dwarf, carrying the waves and particles of her most distant/intimate voice: I wrote the script so that we both could lay naked/Like two starfish on a planet thats just been invaded…Inhale real slow, the air out here could be fatal  she sings of the magnetism of a relationship that has orbited beyond its star.

“Not Have Each Other” pulls you deep into a pulsar of kickdrums and baselines and mysterious voices flowing beneath her own urgency that rises with soaring synth notes as she spins out a story we all know and hope won’t be ours.  “The Cure” follows, one of Tai’s most powerful and mesmerizing creations, a solar flare of poetic and musical art that walks the cutting edge of dream pop and indie without sacrificing emotional honesty, one of Tai’s unique gifts to music.   

But there is no recovery from “The Cure” because she launches you directly into the supernova of  “Surrender” and then spins you off into the beat-heavy “Righteous”, with soaring, blood-pumping vocals. Then she triggers your safety chute with “Scolded”, a soft beginning that morphs into a head-bobbing time signature within a mysterious synth architecture.  But even here, Tai cannot hold back; her voice ignites and blazes before it floats down, letting you land on a strange planet.

And on that planet is  LA’s Melrose Avenue, so she takes your hand and you skip along together in “Meet Me on Melrose” — lighthearted, whimsical, sparkling with a Spanish guitar and rhythms, ,  but still rising and soaring, carrying you higher, like a contemplative drone above Hollywood. But the respite is short as she serves up  “Not Without Love” , another cry for help flung deep into the sky as Tai begs Give me your innocence/I want your broken wings to fly. The music rises but you can feel her  Valkyrie circling slowly, crippled but not yet powerless as she declares.  We drink the blood of fools/Burnin to break the rules/I’ll show you how to survive.

“Electrified” surges with soft seduction, carried by muted drum heads, subtle details and lyrics of hope —  or maybe delusion: We’re electric, simulations/Of a neon constellation. Whichever, Tai’s pulsing current will take control and you will sing the hook,  I am electrified, I am electrified  long after the album has ended.

But the album hasn’t ended; there is still “Incantation,  the final journey through the nebulae and gas clouds of Tai’s soul, premiering today on Jammerzine.  Here, she finds only herself at the heart of the dark star, Faced with myself again and again/Wasting myself again and again. The child is now a woman; the Valkyrie has been left  behind, held like a starfish laying naked in the sun, unable to defend Tai as she has only herself – but no, she has us;  her music holds us close as she slowly rotates into the urgent bright blackness. 

Take a deep breath before you hit “Replay” .

About Patrick O'Heffernan

Patrick O’Heffernan is co-host of the LA-based, nationally syndicated weekly program, Music FridayLive! and is a music reviewer for online magazines Vents, The Hollywood Progressive and MusicJunkie. He has also co-hosted a national political talk show, The Fairness Doctrine, and hosted the “Uplinks” media segment on Saturday All Things Considered on NPR. He holds a PhD in International Relations from MIT, has been awarded an Emmy, four Addy’s, and a Webby-Honors, among other awards. He has published 5 books and ghost-written others. A project he co-launched, the North Asia Nuclear Free Zone, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. He serves on the Board of Netroots Nation.

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