Warm and cold contrasts on Krystale’s ‘Machine’

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If Krystale is a machine as she claims, she is one that has soul.

That was a terrible pun, but it highlights a theme of the Montreal singer’s new album Machine. She continually navigates a balance between warm, romantic vocal delivery and cold, withholding lyrical content. The dichotomy creates an exciting, diverse set that will satisfy any fan of original soulful music. Krystale succeeds here by singing with a confidence and talent that command attention from the listener. The songs are complex but catchy, the performances are first rate (Krystale is joined by Harvey Bien-Aimée on drums, Hrag Keuchkerian on guitar, and Pierre Erizias on bass), and the production by Tim Gowdy creates a lush sonic atmosphere that coheres the album.

Machine is a clear synthesis of Krystale’s previous EPs, the jazz-inflected Reboot (2011) and The Good Fight (2012) in which she was joined by beat-maker Kaytranada. It is her most unified work and it achieves the ideal of sounding organic, even with the inclusion of electronic elements. Many musicians categorize themselves within the jazz, soul, R&B, and electronic genres but nobody else sounds like Krystale.

While Krystale’s vocal prowess is undeniable, the emotional tone of her lyrics is one of the most noticeable attributes of the album. She is vulnerable but also closed off, making the listener curious as to what will come next. With song titles like “I Don’t Like to Share” and lyrics such as “I’m a Machine” and “I be cold if I have to / self control is a virtue,” we can only wonder why she is so emotionally guarded. There are lighter moments, though, with lyrics about restarting, changing perspectives, love, and companionship.

The title track puts Krystale’s expressive vocals on display while leaving room for funky bass fills from Erizias. Here we also witness how tight the band is through a complex arrangement that includes a four-on-the-floor, head-bobbing bridge and syncopated hits to close the song. Bien-Aimée’s drums and Keuchkerian’s guitar riffs are in the forefront of “Cold Without You.” They pair with Krystale’s airy, emotional singing to create a spacey, entrancing musical experience. “Midnight Blue” sounds nothing like any of the other songs but could be the one that best encapsulates the balance between upbeat, accessible music and sombre but tender lyrics. This is the song with the fastest tempo and has an unrelenting rock feel, all while being matched with lyrics such as “I taught myself disaster when the hue soaked in my sight / but the dark seems so fulfilling / there’s no way to change my mind.”

Some listeners might notice that many of the songs have similar structure with verses, choruses, and a bridge toward the end of the song, but each composition is unique enough that it stands on its own. Machine works because each song is catchy in its own right, but when put together they all gel as a cohesive work of art. Krystale’s vocals and compositions carry the album, but the instrumental performances and production prove just as integral to the outcome. Krystale’s sound is wholly unique, particularly within the Montreal area, and that makes Machine an album you do not want to miss.

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