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Album Review New Music

‘I Want the Door to Open:’ Lala Lala’s Artistic Victory Lap

Listening to the latest album by Lala Lala–the brainchild of Chicago-based indie rocker Lillie West–is like listening to a once-cynical adult reverting back to their childlike wonder and learning to play again. It’s a manic trip of bombastic synth-infused ballads that transports the listener to another dimension, with lyrics that invoke tragedy, mortality, and joy and despair with intricate gospel choirs, wigged-out production, and lush vocoder-layered harmonies.

Lala Lala’s previous album’s The Lamb and Sleepyhead, were introspective bare-bones indie projects that West had recorded with a three-piece band. Her forthcoming album, I Want the Door to Open, is a much more sonically adventurous project with a lengthy personnel of collaborators including Yoni Wolf of WHY? on production, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya on drums, Benjamin Gibbard on guest vocals, Adam Schatz of Landlady and Sen Morimoto on saxophone, and many others.

The record is a loose concept album that tackles mortality, the labor of living, and the occasional highs we garner from being alive. On “DIVER,” West invokes the greek tragedy of Sisyphus of Ephyra, who was punished by the gods for wanting too much, forced to push a boulder up a mountain from Hell for eternity. It sounds like every instrument is battling each other for domination in the mix, production that’s guaranteed to leave every listener reeling. “Lava,” “Castle Life,” “Beautiful Directions,” and “Bliss Now!” each contain enchanting vocal loops and ethereal gospel choirs reminiscent of the styles of FKA Twigs and Kate Bush, both of whom West cites as major influences on the album.

“I want to be the color of the pool/I want to hold the fire part of fuel,” West yearns on the cinematic “Color of the Pool,” illustrating the violent desire that most humans feel to control the ways that they are perceived. “How can anyone else know who you are?” West asks. “How can you know who anyone else is when all these different avatars or personalities or performances are happening simultaneously, in different places.” Featuring an unhinged layered saxophone solo by Adam Schatz, the sonic landscape that West built around the song is just as urgent as the lyrics themselves, if not more.

This desire to mold one’s self-image into an avatar that doesn’t fit them is echoed on “Photo Photo,” where West traverses the pervasiveness of online digital spaces and social media. “There it is again, A flicker of pleasure/I didn’t take a picture, I guess I’ll have to remember,” she laments.

The closing track, “Utopia Planet” is a four-minute otherworldly pop opera with cavernous synths, amorphous production, and a blossoming saxophone solo by Sen Morimoto. The song closes with a voice-recording of West’s Grandma Beth, closing off the album on a lighthearted note.

“I tried to imagine a great expanse, abundance, an open door. It’s an invitation to surrender. I used a recording of my grandmother to take you further into another world.” It is the quintessential album closer, illuminating how acceptance of one’s circumstances is the only way one can truly reach a sense of peace. The door may never open, but we all must learn to fall in love with the labor of pushing the boulder up the mountain.

‘I Want the Door to Open’ will be released on October 8th via Hardly Art.


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