Last month, the National Hockey League – in its annual end-of-season awards ceremony – recognized Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres with its award for the league’s top rookie player. That prize is known as the Calder Trophy, and is earned by a first-year player who distinguishes themselves apart from not only their teammates, but also their peers in competing clubs with potential for even greater accomplishments ahead. Similarly, a relatively new, young performer will release her first full-length album next month, and the name Calder once again designates a stand-out debut like Myers.’
Stepping out from her cadre of bandmates in the indie-rock supergroup, The New Pornographers, Kathryn Calder’s Are You My Mother – due out August 10th – presents a half-dozen compelling, uptempo tracks with a smaller handful of more subdued piano ballads. New Pornographer’s frontman, A.C. Newman introduced his niece, Calder, to the band on the group’s Twin Cinema record to cover Neko Case’s lead vocals when her own solo tours prevented her from tagging along to NP shows. And while Calder might not have the same pipes as Case – after all, who does? – she nonetheless offers a perfectly enjoyable vocal style to carry the entire 10-track effort, with a sound closer to Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis.
After starting somewhat gently with first single, “Slip Away,” with its post Bill Berry-era R.E.M verses and Evanescence-style wordless chorus and the somber “Low,” third track “Castor and Pollux” is a solid introduction to Calder’s more aggressive material, with its chorus speaking to “chambers that have been blown wide open.” Its useful in establishing Calder’s direction independent of the New Pornographers or her previous group, Immaculate Machine, in which her vocal contributions were largely limited to back-up parts.
Still, for those looking for something similar to her Pornographers’ work, the mid-collection “If You Only Knew” features some communal harmonies with her session players and a guitar riff similar to Newman’s “All the Old Showstoppers.” With its tone similar to The Shins’ “New Slang,” the out-of-the-box percussion including claps and curbside rhythms, the number seems to be the album’s best venue to showcase Calder’s talents in both songwriting and performance.
In this space, I’ll typically describe how some late-cut ballad marks a departure from the rest of the album’s material. However, the real surprise here is found three tracks later in “Day Long Past its Prime,” as hard and driving a number Calder offers. Her rolling piano foundation and a fuzzy guitar part keep the piece humming along through its brisk three minutes, and certainly provides a nice counterpoint to the scattered ballads.
Come for: “Slip Away”
Stay for: “If You Only Knew”
You’ll be surprised by: “Day Long Past its Prime”