In my experience, a good album tends to do one of two things: It either establishes itself as a cohesive part of your life, or carries you into an entirely separate world. However, more rarely, a precise combination of lyrical craftsmanship and atmospheric audio can, I believe, allow an album to successfully execute both at once.
This coalescing effect is perhaps the most concisely that I can summarize the musical stylings of Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Ché Aimee Dorval, especially her recently released studio album, Between The Walls And The Window. A surreal, atmospheric world of dreampop, it’s built through thick bass, echoed, distorted guitar, and show-stopping vocals that range from a delicate croon to a spine-chilling cry. It’s a haunting experience, simultaneously fostering a singular musical atmosphere while telling stories of genuine emotion, from fear and oppression to compassion and hope. The album clocks in at just over thirty minutes with its eight tracks, but its impact is so intense that it feels in no way lacking.
It starts out strong with “Afraid,” guitar resonating in an otherwise empty intro that powerfully replicates a feeling of being alone, perfectly setting up the song’s narrative of being held down by fear. The instrumentation slowly picks up, along with Dorval’s vocals, leading to a powerful conclusion bursting with emotion. “Buried,” the album’s lead single, carries forward a similar theme of being suffocated and held down while presenting what is possibly the most awe-inspiring vocal performance of the album—and possibly Dorval’s career—making it a must-listen.
From here, Dorval transforms the internal struggles of the early album into a more external view. “Holding In”—one of the album’s strongest tracks—is encouraging, determined with an aggressive rhythm and an incredible vocal performance, questioning someone’s retreat into themselves as it ponders, “When will I see you smile again? / When will I hear you laughing?” On the other side of the coin is “I Should Have Worried,” which examines the warning signs of someone’s struggles, regretting not having noticed them earlier. Instrumentally, it’s one of the album’s lighter-sounding tracks despite its mournful nature, with a pleasing guitar riff and backing vocals.
“Art Of Dying” is similarly light, a very atmospheric nature accompanying what is possibly the album’s most poignantly hopeless narrative. Its delicate instrumentation perfectly accompanies the tale of someone who is falling apart and desperately longing to feel, knocking the wind out of you as it closes with the line, “I breathe because I’ve not yet learned / The art of dying.”
Diving into gritty, heavy guitar in “Low”—the album’s heaviest track—it closes in in an extremely contrasting way with “I Know, I Know (A Broken Heart),” xylophone and acoustic guitar fostering its gentle tone among a story of a love from beginning to end.
For all its beauty and the very defined atmosphere it gives off, creating such a separate world in its music that it’s hard not to get wonderfully lost within it, it’s hard to come up with the right words to truly convey how it feels to listen to Between The Walls And The Window. Dorval has always excelled in creating music that could say so much with even the most minimalist compositions, and her work in Casualties of Cool—a collaboration with Devin Townsend—has been clear proof of her ability to summon an otherworldly feeling in music. But with this album, she’s taken the next step entirely; it’s simply masterfully crafted, a world in itself with evocative guitar riffs, striking percussion, and words woven together to form intriguing poetry in its lyrics, not to mention her gorgeous vocals tying it all together. I can’t recommend it enough; it’s truly a collection of music that’s enrapturing from the first note.