Creating out of the gut-wrenching vacuum of loss surrounding a second miscarriage, The Parlor push their vision into new territory on Kiku, but the crossroads they arrive at is a familiar one. The tension between synthesized drums and live instrumentation is often explored, and for good reason: beyond providing a practical solution to the logistical nightmare of lugging around clunky hardware, the contrast between the “mechanical” and “organic” allows for introspective deep-dives that never stray too far from the dancefloor. Even in the pit of despair, a broken heart can’t deny a beat. At its best, Kiku operates on this principle to a T, drowning you in gleaming textures while teasing your hips at the same time.
The most distinctive feature of The Parlor’s latest excursion is their commitment to expansive sound design. They love their walls of sound and they like them thick. Every song on here, from the menacing space-balladry of highlight track “Lies” to the cosmic swells of closer “Trust,” finds the duo dragging their songs through saccharine sonic landscapes. In the right doses, these touches are a real treat. “Superbloom” is an instant winner—the living matter of cascading acoustic guitars, a skipping beat, and shimmering synthesized background conjures up a picturesque desert drive, truly embodying the “Break in the weather / For the first time in forever” and providing much needed oxygen on an album so choked with grief.
But in other cases, that same flood of aural information strangles otherwise fluid folk songwriting. “Deep” is the biggest casualty. Struggling through an intro suggestive of post-rock behemoths Explosions in the Sky, the eventual beat drop and accompanying heavy synthesizers pull singer Eric Krans under beyond all hope of sunlight. Even once that noisy curtain dies down into spare acoustic strumming, the intensity of the reverb on his voice reduces what could be a raw moment of personal intensity to an empty echo. It’s a shame, because elsewhere, as on the aforementioned “Lies”, they shape those reverbs so inventively, blending Krans and partner Jen O’Connors’ voices into a force that can compete with their orchestral ambitions. But when the highly-processed medium begins to conflict with the message, the characters, the centerpiece of this therapeutic record, become lost in a haze of avoidance.
Where The Parlor powerfully succeeds is in their more danceable moments, where they let the hits ride and pile on instrumental flourishes. The hypnotic polyrhythms of opener “Soon” tumble into being, inviting you into O’Connors’ aching vocal melody. The transitions on this one are absolutely perfect, building into its urgency alongside the glide of cinematic strings. Although lyrically heavy, this balanced, tuneful approach carries the song swiftly to the finish as you mentally bookmark sections to examine in greater detail later. And closer “Trust” takes its time, growing from rippling synthesizers into a stadium-sized duet, triumphantly celebrating the duo’s continued resilience before splashing down from ping-ponging arpeggios into a smooth, lights-out drum groove. At long last, The Parlor emerge from the edge refreshed and revived, still eager to leap out past the brink despite the darknesses they’ve endured thus far. Kiku is by turns inspiring and devastating, an honest record that succeeds by breaking down its insecurities and dancing over the pieces.