Tristen Gaspadarek – who simply goes by the moniker TRISTEN – is, in many ways, living the indie musician’s dream. In 2011, the Lansing, Illinois-born songwriter, who now makes Nashville home, released her second LP, Charlatans at the Garden Gate, a captivating array of indie pop and folk music that was applauded by many critics, including Rolling Stone and Spin magazine. American Songwriter included the album on its best 50 albums of the year, and it was awarded Nashville’s Best Local Album, which quite the accomplishment considering the burgeoning indie music scene there. Charlatans also represented the launch of her startup indie label, PUPsnake Records, which enabled her to manage the production and release of the album.
Late in 2013, she released C A V E S, which saw Gaspadarek expand on Charlatans by incorporating more synth and pop melodies into her music. In producing the record, she worked with notable musicians and producers, including Battletapes engineer Jeremy Ferguson; the great Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk, Conor Oberst collaborator); and Stephen Hague, who has worked with synth-pop pioneers New Order and The Pet Shop Boys. Like Charlatan, C A V E S was recognized by critics, in particular for its more expansive sound and approach. Gaspadarek was once again rewarded a spot on American Songwriter’s top-50 albums of 2013 and the Nashville Critic’s award for Best Local Album.
While C A V E S falls in the same category as more recent synth-pop efforts, such as by Mozart’s Sister, Lowell, and Zola Jesus, it shares more similarities with the work of Lykke Li with the darker and occasional brooding undertones and the honest lyrics about love, life, and everything between. “Gold Star”, “Forgiveness”, and “House of War” best exemplify the similarities with the Swedish songstress with the soothing melodies and metaphoric songwriting. “House of War”, in particular, showcases Gaspadarek’s ability to mix catchy melodies and beats with creative songwriting that is almost mythological.
There are also moments where the album buzzes with the electric, dance pop of Kimbra, combined with the melodic approach. “No One’s Gonna Know”, the lead single from C A V E S, is dramatic and quintessential pop of the ’90s and early ’00s. “Monster”, likewise, is a catchy pop tune that recalls the late ’90s.
The star of the album, though, is “Easy Out”. A slow burner of a pop track that echos of Mikal Cronin’s “Don’t Let Me Go” (yes, Mikal Cronin, guitarist extraordinaire and Ty Segall collaborator). It’s a beautiful, dreamy tune that one could simply get lost in. For that matter, the entire album is a 40-minute compilation of escapism. It’s the album, to be frank, that I was hoping Lykke Li would have released this year.
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