Last year, Portland singer/songwriter Katy Davidson revived their beloved indie folk project Dear Nora to reissue their 2004 record Mountain Rock. Riding the high from that triumphant return, this week Davidson will release Skulls Example, their first new album in a decade.
Unsurprisingly, every song on the record is great. Most of the 14 tracks rely on the classic Dear Nora building blocks of jangly, reverbed guitar riffs, layered harmonies, and observational lyrics that painstakingly catalog details of the natural world: wildfires, hot pink bougainvillea flowers, the smell of rain, the feeling of sunlight on Davidson’s back.
But on Skulls Example, Davidson’s field notes expand to include descriptions of the modern age’s regimented grids and simulated realities: snarled, rat-king-like freeways, the view from an airplane, photos of photos, the pixelated sunset on a video game. By interweaving lyrics about the natural world and the manmade one, Davidson exposes the interconnectedness of humanity’s experiences with both, and lets them coexist like a double-exposed photograph.
With the electro-R&B beat of “Antidote for Mindlessness” and the punkish energy of “Black Truck,” it’s not accurate to file Skulls Example as a straightforward indie folk record, like Mountain Rock was; it’s more like the last Dear Nora album, 2006’s There Is No Home, with tighter melodies and more focused themes. But catchy standout tracks “Morning Glories” and “Anyway” prove Davidson’s songwriting hasn’t lost the gentle power of Dear Nora’s earlier releases—the scope is just broader now, the view a little clearer.