Through life’s disappointments, Olivia Kaplan finds beauty on her stunning and poignant debut album, ‘Tonight Turns to Nothing’.
When you hear the phrase, “An artist’s artist”, it generally refers to a highly-respected individual within the music scene who has yet to receive widespread acclaim and public adulation. This applies to Olivia Kaplan, who for seven years has quietly released some of the most stunning folk-rock songs and EPs. While she may not be a household name at the moment, people involved in the LA, Brooklyn, and Austin music scenes know her. So as she put together a backing band for her debut album, the likes of Adam Gunther and Jorge Balbi (Sharon Van Etten), Alex Fischel (Spoon/Divine Fits), Buck Meek (Big Thief), and others did not hesitate to contribute. With their support, Kaplan is able to take her intimate, introspective songs and turn them into captivating sonic outputs. As such, the outcome of Tonight Turns to Nothing is nothing short of magical.
Each of the record’s 11 songs are striking in their beautiful and emotional heft. The melodic, three-part roller coaster that is “Spill” encapsulates the record’s poignancy, and it is just the opener. A finger-picked guitar is featured in part one, on which Kaplan sings: “Spill me out on the floor / I don’t want to be drunk anymore”. Percussion, strings, a second guitar, and some reverb fill part two. Kaplan’s voice likewise intensifies, as she resists becoming another person’s self-fulfilling prophecy. A beautiful, ’80s soft-rock highlights the third part. Kaplan’s voice turns remorseful, as she remembers the sacrifices other have made for people like her to succeed.
Seventies folk-rock meets 2021 indie-folk on the light dazzler, “Wrong”. As Kaplan’s soft, angelic voice hovers over a warm yet taut groove, she sings about the fears people live each day, wondering if they will ever do and find the right thing. Kaplan builds on this theme of seeking validation on the synth-driven “Seen By You”. Cool, nostalgic, technicolor tones fill the air while Kaplan tackles how obsession to be liked can be detrimental.
“Every time they ask me how i see myself
Every time he ask me how i see myself
I say as seen by you”
Kaplan’s ability to turn subtlety into something incredibly cinematic is best captured on “Ghosts”. From its crunchy guitar to her lush vocal delivery to the punchy bass and drums, the song builds perfectly. It starts and stops occasionally before it picks up with Kaplan’s voice booming over the song’s final moments. These final moments are monumental and take what was already a great song and launch it into something truly phenomenal. Even if the song concerns betrayal and disappointment.
“But why’d I need permission
from them to give any fight
I sit and blame conditions
when I could have loved you if I tried”
For all the breathtaking moments on Tonight Turns to Nothing, Kaplan still leaves a mark on the more melancholic numbers. The lithe “Long Con” stuns with Kaplan’s lyrical poignancy, as she describes how she was the victim of a cheating heart. “Silver in the Dark”, with its stirring string arrangement, is a mournful lament to a love that once was. Meanwhile, the startling “Dream Possession” tells the story of one person unable to escape the image of another. It is the pain and the scarred memory that lasts a lifetime.
Kaplan’s strongest statement, though, may be “Still Strangers”. Like how the LP started, a finger-picked guitar and a delicate vocal make up the entire track. The approach puts Kaplan’s voice and songwriting front and center, which is where she excels. Kaplan takes a unique perspective on a breakup, telling the story from the eyes of a person who refuses to commit to either a relationship or breakup.
“Getting drunk and across the table
You ask me if I know what it’s like
To wanna close the door forever
And never go outside
And i said obviously I do
But i think I’d open it up for you
I think a part of you is listening
To the part of me that whispering
I’m not asking you to love me
I’m just talking about some company
I know I’m not alone in wanting”
Indeed, we are listening. We are listening to one of the great debut records of the year from an artist who deserves our uninterrupted attention. Who deserves the respect from the masses as much as she receives from her contemporaries.
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