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The Daily Tar Heel

Music Review: Katharine Whalen & Her Fascinators' "Madly Love"

There’s the music, there’s your expectation of what the music will sound like, and then there’s that space in-between the reality and your prediction — sometimes a reservoir, sometimes a stream. But for Katharine Whalen & Her Fascinators’ Madly Love, the gap between the expected and the actual was a gulf, one that reveals Whalen’s breadth and distinguishes her latest from her past work with the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

Title track and opener “Madly Love” attests that these songs carry more weight than your standard rock ballad. Weird and intriguing, it’s a distillation of David Byrne-ian quirkiness and an Appalachian folk singer’s strange vowels. It exemplifies what Whalen and company do so well — taking what could be hooky and riffy and massaging it around the edges until it only vaguely resembles what you’ve heard before.

For most of the album, this rule holds true, and the group and its frontwoman throw in enough oddity to keep you on your toes. There are places, especially on the slower tracks, where the momentum falters, but it’s momentary. Like clockwork, Whalen’s next verse interrupts the malaise, and you’re reminded of another influence you didn’t see coming.

“With You,” the record’s closer, defies the precedent its slower forebears set. What seems lethargic elsewhere feels intentional here. That’s likely due to the vocals, Whalen’s most heartfelt — mixed with the sad caw of a crow at the end of the song, they sound completely organic.

Even music critics misjudge, and the basis is often silly — an album cover, a snippet of a song, a naysayer, or, in this case, an artist’s past work. But Madly Love is a record that forces you to reset your gauge, an imperfect but enjoyable reminder that unanticipated bits and pieces can end up as a beautiful, distinctive whole.

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