Stag Hare: Starlights Gloom
Inner Islands

Never has Willow Skye-Biggs's Stag Hare material been more polished than it is on Starlights Gloom, which makes the cassette release a rather bittersweet one when word has it it's the final offering in the decade-long project. Issued in a 100-copy run, the six-song collection finds the Salt Lake City-based artist delivering a polished, forty-minute set of high-spirited dreampop largely created using sampled material from the Stag Hare catalog.

In a sometimes ominous-sounding note accompanying the release, Skye-Biggs refers to the period of the material's creation as a “really hard time in [her] life,” one so hard she “didn't really think [she] was going to make it”; the first versions of the songs were recorded in 2015 so that their energy could be shared with her son Sebastian as he grew up “in case [she] wasn't around.” Returning to those initial sketches two years later “and obviously still alive,” she resolved to finish them and move on with her life. Having done so, she's now ready to “step out of [her] Stag Hare safety womb and go try some other stuff.”

Largely buoyant, sunny, and breezy, her neo-psychedelic music's conspicuously free of the note's downtrodden spirit. Starting things off on a poppy tip, a crisp uptempo beat animates “Alesha 3/2” as Skye-Biggs's hushed voice glides across a deep, swirling undercurrent of synthesizer-generated pulsations. It's a template used for the others songs too, though adjustments in tempo and melody obviously differentiate one from another. “Bloom,” for example, is slower than “Alesha 3/2” as well as more melancholy, but the synths-and-beats combination remains, as does a vaporous vocal delivery that suggests the subtle application of a vocoder treatment. A few tracks are fundamentally dancefloor instrumentals: “Stormy Heart” derives its impetus from a low-end rumble, while a funk-inflected dance groove powers the relentlessly strutting workout “The Sea Feel.” For the most part, Starlights Gloom is an energized affair that's anything but lugubrious, and had anyone told me the final Stag Hare release would be a dreampop collection filled with dance grooves, I would have been more than a little surprised.

July 2017