This is a miracle…
So begins Kalmia Traver’s new album Ten Flowers (out July 14 via NNA Tapes), created under the name Kalbells. Traver, who has spent the last ten years as the singer for indie pop band Rubblebucket, is also a survivor of ovarian cancer – a miracle, indeed. The experience led her to this project, and the outcome couldn’t be more euphoric. The album is outpouring of joy, love, and self-care, and highlights the unique qualities she possesses as a writer.
If Disney had a runaway alien princess, it would be Kalbells. The mostly electronic album is full of bizarre sounds, but there is a lightness to Traver’s voice that creates an atmosphere of whimsy and sweetness. The first track on the album, “Wonder,” begins with an oddly-tuned synthesizer. A quick-pulsed drum machine begins, and the song is launched into an off-kilter meditation on “what makes a miracle.”
I don’t care, I don’t care
what people claim makes a miracle
This is a miracle
Traver’s cancer survival comes to mind in this song, regardless of whether or not she intended for it. The song has a flippant quality to it, and it’s clear from the outset that Traver made this album for herself first and foremost. It’s this that makes it so special.
Listen: “Why?!steria” by Kalbells
The lead single from the album, “Why?!steria,” is disarmingly beautiful, and sounds oddly like the soundtrack from Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. A surreal moment in the desert begins with an arpeggiated synth, and Traver’s voice glides in:
Damn, you’re afraid
Damn, I’m afraid
It’s like a circle, deserts and cowboys
Don’t let the coyotes in
The song is complete with whistling, plucked strings, a cappella vocals, sugary melodies, and anything else you might imagine to be included in a fantasy land. You can all but picture Traver standing a window, summoning birds and squirrels.
The next song, “Alonetime,” continues in this trend. The lovely waltz has Kalbells “walking down pathways,” “twirling in space,” and “alone on a mountain.” “Life can be so emotional when you’re lonely,” she croons, as she continues down a winding path of alone time:
I’m taking a break,
walking on sunshine
looking for nothing I know
Traver resets on this song, and finds the space she needs to allow herself time for herself. She expresses herself fully on this song. The album then switches into “Craving Art Droplets,” perhaps the most sonically dark song on the album. There is a whisper running through the song, almost unintelligible. The song is hypnotic and pulsing, and it has a trance-like quality. It leads well into the next few songs on the album, which are full of similar beats and pulsing chords.
The last song on the album, “Warm Without Me” makes a departure from the rest of the album – stripped of the electronics, Traver sings alone with a piano about the loss of someone who is now “warm without [her].” It’s a sad way to end the album, but sonically, though without the strange productions, it fits with the rest. It feels like the fairytale has come to its end, and the princess is leaving the kingdom.
Though the album is largely strange and surreal, there is an intensely human quality to it all. It acts like the best poetry does: the language is abstract, but there is a feeling elicited from every word and image. The album feels like an affirmation of being alive, with all its ups and downs. Nothing displays this more than a moment halfway through “Why?!steria”:
Yeah, we’re alive
Yeah, we’re alive
We’ve got the lashes, wet with elation
Dry when we know we’ve tried
Kalbells couldn’t have made a more beautiful solo debut. I can only hope we see more like this in the future. Life needs more poetry like this.
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