Katy Kirby's 'Blue Raspberry' Savours the Artificial

BY Sam BoerPublished Jan 23, 2024


Katy Kirby is fascinated by the space between real and artificial. On her second album, the Texas-born, Tennessee-based songwriter shares crystal-clear snapshots of bitter-sweet relationships, all revolving around questions of authenticity, personal growth and the mechanisms of desire.

On the bright and poppy “Cubic Zirconia,” Kirby articulates the awkwardness of witnessing someone you really know putting on a different personality to impress a stranger at the bar. We all do this, of course; you’re not the same person to everyone. But when the shine you get from someone feels like “cold plastic water bottles held against the light,” do you enjoy the glow, or are you left craving something brighter, realer? “The current cost of diamonds / Has the market in a tailspin,” Kirby sings. “Seems like everyone’s decided / That synthetics are preferable, no matter the price.”

The sound of Blue Raspberry reflects this searching insecurity. Most of the album’s sparse instrumentation features acoustic instruments, and you can hear the clunking keyboard’s mechanism on “Fences,” brusque fingers strumming a buzzy guitar throughout “Hand to Hand” and uneasy, wailing strings on “Alexandria.” There’s a delicacy to the way Kirby’s voice interplays with these vulnerable arrangements, especially on guitar ballads like the earnest “Party of the Century” (which Kirby co-wrote over FaceTime with ANTI- labelmate Christian Lee Hutson).

Kirby’s lyrics tend toward clinical precision. Listening to these songs can feel like walking through a gallery of butterflies pinned to the wall, ready for delicate examination. This tendency can add levity to moments of heartache, as when Kirby tosses off the line “I put our reconciliation in my calendar” and fixates on an apology note that misspelled “apologie” (on the stunning album opener, “Redemption Arc”). Her deeply specific images are mesmerizing, describing someone’s “face framed by hoodie like an oyster in a shell / And your eyes are rolling at me as a pair of angry pearls” (on “Cubic Zirconia”), or when she relays this absolutely gorgeous image on "Salt Crystal": “The rhinestones on your baseball cap reminding me of when / The salt left crystals on the sunset of your sunburned skin.” Blue Raspberry articulates these moments so clearly and directly that it’s only once they’ve all compounded over the course of the album that you realize how enveloped you’ve become in her world, where keen recollections clarify every joy and regret.

On the Staves-esque title track, Blue Raspberry’s question of realness comes to a head, as Kirby describes an intimate partner as fluorescent, laboratory-bred and sugary-teared. Rather than use these metaphors derogatorily to dismiss this person as “fake,” Kirby swoons over their unnatural sweetness, yearning to understand it, buy into it and be consumed by it. The question of real and fake dissolves in this moment of sheer desire and fascination: “You hold the patent for that flavour: blue raspberry.”  

Blue Raspberry starts with cheerleading personal growth, peruses the affectations that spur affections, and ends with questioning the entire project of separating that artificial from the organic. Rather than pleading for some simplistic notion of authenticity, Kirby marvels at the human desire to blend the lies and truths we embody every day into something delicious.

(ANTI- Records)

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