For the last few years Sarah McLaughlin (Bishop Briggs) has been asserting that there’s room for more than one great vocalist with that name. On her debut LP the indie darling brings the fire and brimstone, and makes some fairly generic sounding tracks really stand out. With more hits than misses on this record and an undeniably stirring through line in McLaughlin’s performance, this record really showcases everything she’s bringing to the table.
A shadowy groove starts up on “Tempt My Trouble” bringing a denser and more dance-focused groove than Bishop Briggs has ever done before. Despite this jarring change, she leans into its fun sides of this sound for a track that’s exciting regardless of the fact that you’ve definitely heard it before. It’s immediately refreshing however to hear her stomping fury on the sparse and dynamic writing of “River.” Each chorus grows more and more gritty and makes McLaughlin’s vocals feel all the more intense.
It’s McLaughlin’s vocals that often separate this album from something simpler and less distinct like on the Chainsmokers overtones of “Lyin'”. The mystifying production that McLaughlin and her team bring on the track, especially in the sucker punch of a final chorus, really takes things over the top. “White Flag” is where things start to get interesting, as the simple verses open up to choruses with an explosive energy. McLaughlin loses herself in the song on this one as she starts singing frantically and takes control just as much as her fiery production.
Stomping drums set off “Dream,” as the belted choruses open things into a dreamy and sunny emotion of hope, with the right battle cry to want to hold onto it. There’s a bit of P!nk energy to the track however, which once again lets McLaughlin be the standout feature of track in every righteous growl she lets out. Even the guitars get a sharper tone on “Wild Horses” as every little drum sound cuts through the darkness to let McLaughlin be the light the song needs. It’s the foreboding energy that McLaughlin brings with the off-putting sounds that makes the track such a unique listen however.
The religious overtones of “Hallowed Ground” come through every ounce of its acoustics and the church-based instrumentation that infects it. McLaughlin’s passionate performance is elevated by this beautifully thematic sound-work to create a track that’s simple but effective in its crafting. “Water” works best as a contrast to many of her songs on this record, as she explores the ethers of her normally brash instrumentation for an introspective piece about the human condition. By really opening up her instrumentation here, her powerhouse vocals really hit all the harder and make each dramatically loud moment all the more visceral.
“The Fire” lets the percussion take centre-stage as McLaughlin leads a tribal feeling through her deep reflection on the pain of love. Letting harmonies play out like conversations and giving a more rounded-out energy to the song, there’s a real momentum behind her energy on the track. Like the best vocal performances, “Hi-Lo” finds McLaughlin isolating her vocals to really punch through every open space on the track and create a tension in her own ramp up of energy. Considering how simple the writing is here, and despite the fact that the bass drop really feels a little too light, her energy is too contagious to not be caught up in.
Words by Owen Maxwell