Highs in the Minuses
“Passing you all of my fries / You’re not capable of telling lies, you tell me / Everything I wanna know,” Charlotte Cornfield sings on “Black Tattoo,” one of a number of poignant piano ballads off her fourth album, Highs In The Minuses, her first on Polyvinyl Records and Double Double Whammy. She has that folky drawl that sounds not a bit like Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker. Her songwriting as well. Charlotte, however, fills in the details more than Lenker does, so that you don’t have to reach too far to gather what she’s talking about.
Old lovers, old stomping grounds, personal hangups, and astute observations about the characters who littered her past life. It doesn’t seem like Charlotte is able to lie, but she leaves enough out of the story for us to fill in the blanks. This record plays like an eleven track memoir, starting with the simple impressionistic painting of the first song. “Skateboarding by the lake with you / practicing our style / cool air, it’s just a sheet of blue / We stay there for a while.” It’s an odd introduction to an album, and doesn’t seem to get too personal. “Finally getting the hang / of the kick push thing.”
It’s only after eleven tracks, getting deeper and deeper in, confiding in us until the final track, “Destroy Me,” where she seems to be asking us, who are her hard-won friends by now, for some reassurance. “My anxiety’s crippling / And where did it come from / and where is it going / and will it destroy me? / Will it destroy me? / Will it destroy me?”
There are hints throughout the album at where her anxiety comes from. “Modern Medicine” seems to talk about days of her youth spent in the hospital. “Tests and injections, treatments that didn’t work / Fluorescent lighting, crying in the bathroom.” The piano single, which has a stunning video of Charlotte wading chest high in a lake or ocean, “Drunk For You,” on which she sings, “When you pushed me away / Something in me atrophied / I was caught up in our sad ballet / Of fighting ’til we fell asleep.” Her 21 year old fling with “Dave” who “tasted like an ashtray / and had very little grace” on slowburner “21.”
Charlotte is a critically acclaimed multi-instrumentalist who splits her time between Toronto and Montreal, with a particular talent through the years on the drums. But for this record, in the spirit of bringing live music back, she played with her friends. Liam O’Neill from the band Suuns, bassist Alexandra Levy from the band Ada Lea. But in all honesty, it is so simple in its production that it’s hard to tell that they are there. Her older albums were busier, but this one seems to rely almost solely on her simple compositions and her stellar story telling. And for good reason.
The songs are all compelling, sonically. But it is her evocative lyricism which really shines. She has been longlisted for the Canadian Polaris Music Prize. And a close listen to her music shows you just why. “Highs in the Minuses” is full of exaltation and despair, made palpable through her real life events. You could call it “literary rock,” and it gives you the feeling of reading a well-written short story, though of course it’s all autobiographical. She sings on the sixth track, “Blame Myself,” “Put pen to paper and write for nobody else,” which seems to be a good recipe for authentic, no holds barred self-expression. But it felt like she wrote and shared her stories just for me and for you.
Order Highs in the Minuses By Charlotte Cornfield HERE
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