Erin Rae: Lighten Up (Thirty Tigers) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, November 29th, 2022  

Erin Rae

Lighten Up

Thirty Tigers

Feb 15, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The latest advancement in popular music’s burgeoning “post-pandemic” sound, Nashville singer/songwriter Erin Rae McKaskle’s third studio album is a bright, buzzing candy jar of sorts. Something found in your grandparents’ kitchen, with paisley-patterned flora etched into its glass, and perhaps a cartoon mouse or duck peeking through the vines. This is to say that Lighten Up is indeed a warm, quirky, and heavily atmospheric concoction, richly-textured and poetically potent, as is any of McKaskle’s previous work. This time around, however, McKaskle has entered a state of recovery, and the heightening of her senses can be heard in the album’s breezy Topanga Canyon folkie vibes, as well as its colorful assortment of sounds and emotions. True to its title, Lighten Up finds McKaskle attempting to do just that, trading the sobering melancholia of 2018’s Putting On Airs for a sugary halo of California cool.

The album’s golden aura becomes immediately evident on the opening “Candy + Curry,” a lush neo-psychedelic resolution, which sees McKaskle emerge from the sinister haze of the previous several years with a fresh, yet cautious perspective—“I am practicing sun salutations/I am askin’ for/Right direction/On my knees.” Lighten Up is one of several recent releases to synthesize an authentically ’70s studio sound with contemporary indie and Americana sensibilities, resulting in flawless compositions such as the New Agey “Can’t See Stars” and burning “True Love’s Face” (a stunning pop number so perfect, so pristine, so present, that one must stop to wonder why McKaskle is not currently topping the charts). The album’s retro flourishes are achieved with the help of producer Jonathan Wilson, whose work with a range of artists as diverse as Father John Misty and Roger Waters has allowed him to exist freely between earthen musical history and sleek sonic modernity. Breakup ballads “Gonna Be Strange” and “California Belongs to You” are given room to breathe by McKaskle and Wilson, melodically vast and rolling as balmy coastal breezes, their respective lyrical humanity piercing. On the former, McKaskle confesses, “Guess I’m gonna find out what I’m made of now/Like I have always doubted/That I would ever do,” a sense of determination underscoring her apprehension, while on the latter, McKaskle’s ghostlike vocals illustrate a contemplative effort in acceptance, resolving, “Gotta find other things to do/California belongs to you.”

Another high point, the gentle “Cosmic Sigh,” accentuated by a wistful string section, serves as a long awaited ray of heavenly light, cast across McKaskle’s face as she continues her search. This track in particular stands as a major creative achievement on McKaskle’s part, easily one of the strongest and most sympathetic songs she has recorded. The upbeat “Modern Woman” is an insightful reimagining of feminine identity, McKaskle declaring, “Round up the old perceptions/Lay them on down/They’re only tellin’ stories and they’re/Gettin’ in the way,” while “Mind/Heart,” another standout, recalls the early output of Emmylou Harris, McKaskle remaining true to the album’s cosmic country influences. The penultimate “Lighten Up & Try” summarizes the album’s intentions, seeing McKaskle moving forward, and the closing “Undone” concludes the saga, pensive and drenched in the sort of supernatural, daydreamt West Coast mysticism of her musical vision, the singer confessing to the listener, “I’m going back a few steps/Comin’ undone/In the process.”

Despite being as early in the year as it is, Lighten Up is, most confidently, one of 2022’s key releases. Erin Rae remains one of the era’s top songwriters, her homespun poetic wit and unique taste setting her apart from her many contemporaries. This solid effort is entirely worthy of whatever acclaim it receives—and it should garner plenty—offering an honest spoonful of hesitantly optimistic sugar to kill the aftertaste of some particularly bitter medicine. (

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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