Toronto-based singer/songwriter Kirsten Ludwig delves into the shimmering depths of her sophomore album ‘Sunbeam,’ a beautifully bold, bright, inspiring, and uplifting collection of psychedelic indie pop songs searching for connection in our disconnected world.
Stream: “On the Outside” – Kirsten Ludwig
And I’m looking at my youth, the way every open lane was easy to use…
There’s something seductive about sunbeams.
Science tells us that exposure to sunlight is associated with an increase in the production of Vitamin D and the release of serotonin, a hormone associated with mood stabilization, focus, gut health, and more. But basking in the glow of those golden rays goes well beyond our chemical makeup; like plants bending towards the light, we’re drawn into the heat of the sun, entranced by its warmth and invigorated by its energy.
And just like those natural UV rays, Kirsten Ludwig’s Sunbeam shines unapologetically bold and irresistibly bright – sometimes in spite of itself: The singer/songwriter bathes in the sweetness of her own dazzling indie pop on her radiant sophomore album, a buoyant and introspective record of self-discovery, solitude, connection, and longing “in a seemingly disconnected world.” For those who feel things deeply, while craving glistening melodies that sweep you off your feet, Sunbeam is more than respite from a cold world: It’s an oasis for the mind, body, and soul.
I had so much to say
To cover up the hurt
To find some sort of power in my words
If only I could accept, I
The way things were
The way they were left
Everything about me
feels so strange
On the outside
On a different page
And there’s no way
For me to actually be
Exactly how you
Choose to see me
– “On the Outside,” Kirsten Ludwig
Released November 10, 2023 via Victoria, BC-based label Oscar St. Records, Sunbeam may not offer more Vitamin D or serotonin, but it is a visceral rush all the same. Kirsten Ludwig’s sophomore album arrives five years after her debut, We Get It Now, and sees the Toronto-based singer/songwriter blossoming sonically and lyrically, like a flower in full bloom.
Working together with Layten Kramer, Ludwig co-produced a vibrant record that incorporates elements of indie rock, synth-pop, psychedelia, and more into songs that feel at once fresh and familiar: Tinged with nostalgia, Ludwig’s vibrant and immersive indie pop is not for the faint of heart, but those who choose to join her and dive into the deep end are sure to come away with more than they started with. Such is the beauty, and the power, of Sunbeam.
For Ludwig, this album is a personal and professional triumph – made in the midst of considerable turbulence and upheaval, including a massive life change and incessant chronic pain.
“As much as I wanted Sunbeam to be a fun process, it was a pretty difficult one,” she tells Atwood Magazine. “I was diagnosed with endometriosis, moved across the country, and the pandemic started. Certain obstacles, such as my chronic pain, became so limiting I couldn’t focus on anything else. I wanted to hide from everything, including music. I think if you’re an artist you’ll understand this: This album really reinforced that the pain of not making music is greater than the pain of making music.”
“To be honest, I didn’t have a concrete vision, other than I didn’t want it to sound like an expected Kirsten Ludwig album,” she adds. “Naturally, most of the songs started out as indie rock songs and slowly shape-shifted into a more synth-pop feel as we gave ourselves permission to tread into that genre. We started recording in January 2020, and, like so many, the yarn began to unravel with the years following. I left the songs on the shelf for a long time, not knowing if I would ever come back to them. When I did, I began adding to them in a way I didn’t have the capacity to before – such as producing and recording ‘Missing Out’ on my own. Now looking at it from the other side, the finished product is a delightful surprise – beyond anything I could have imagined.”
“I think it shows my ability to challenge myself and not remain complacent with my art, no matter the outcome,” she smiles. “I really pushed myself to write outside of my own toolkit, whether that was different tempos, chord progressions, or lyrical content. In life I am always striving to evolve and experiment, so I’m happy these songs feel very different from each other and from my past work. Layten was a key proponent of this record, both in his contributions and support.”
Ludwig set out not to create “the follow-up to We Get It Now,” but to make something altogether new and exciting – and she without a doubt succeeded in that goal. She describes Sunbeam as an expansive, oscillatory, and resplendent record – “an exploration of the space that fills now until forever.”
The album’s title, she says, was inspired by the song of the same name.
She explains, “It was decided at the beginning when Layten and I were demoing ‘Sunbeam.’ We kind of looked at each other in an altered state of mind and were like, ‘Sunbeam should be the album name.’ It emoted a nice, warm feeling of the joy we were trying to capture. Like all things, the name ended up being way more metaphorical three years later; battling through my own demons and almost giving up on the album, it ended up becoming the light at the end of a difficult time.”
The psych-soaked third track on the record, “Sunbeam” is one of several standouts on an album that can’t help but glimmer and gleam with a soft, inviting light. “Sunbeam on my face, a golden dream to match its pace,” Ludwig sings in the hypnotizing chorus, letting that same light into her own life with a mix of euphoria and anxiety.
“In essence, ‘Sunbeam’ is the duality of both wanting to be seen, to be illuminated in some way; yet rejecting it out of fear and disdain for who you might become,” she explains. “Temperament, easy girl,” she further sings to herself in the song. “Your need to run is not the answer. You cannot focus, but you’ve managed to rest. Take me far…”
Further highlights include the soaring, sun-kissed album opener “Less,” the sweltering fever dream “All I Can Do,” the groovy, breezy “Open Window,” and the beautifully warm and wondrous “On the Outside.”
“A calm, cathartic rush of sound washes over the senses as Kirsten Ludwig treats our ears, our hearts, and our souls to a moment we’ll not soon forget,” Atwood Magazine previously wrote of the latter track. “‘On the Outside’ is an enchanting anthem for wallflowers everywhere. Brutally honest, raw, and achingly intimate, … [she] lures us in with lush layers of guitars and synths, all delivered alongside poetry full of vulnerability and palpable intent.”
One of Ludwig’s favorite lines comes from this song:
And there’s no way
For me to actually be
Exactly how you
Choose to see me
“Whether we are aware of it or not, I think we can often paint others in the light we want to see them in,” she explains. “So this is me kind of acknowledging that we are multifaceted beings, and it can feel impossible to live up to the preconceived expectations others have of you.”
While the record’s first half is arguably its more upbeat side (home to all three of its promotional singles), it’s the more nuanced and moodier second half that houses most of Ludwig’s favorite moments.
“‘Missing Out’ definitely has a soft spot in my heart,” she says, referencing one the most brooding and exposed moments of inner reckoning throughout Sunbeam’s journey. “It’s the most vulnerable song on the album and turned out exactly how I imagined it. Specifically, I love the warm delay and the soft distortion on the vocals, making it feel like an unanswered radio confession. ‘Missing Out’ offers a quiet breather between higher energy songs. It feels like a warm hug to me.”
Ludwig’s other two favorite lyrics also come from this second side; she candidly dives into excerpts from both album finale “Equal Distance” and sweetly enchanting “Ups / Downs”:
From one end to the other,
Yet I’m too afraid to move,
It’s a comfortable container”
– “Equal Distance,” Kirsten Ludwig
“At the time I was writing ‘Equal Distance,’ I was at a place with the album, and my life, where I didn’t know how to progress – I was stuck. Not only was I scared to take risks with the songs and leave my comfort zone, I was also approaching the end of my twenties. It felt like I was in the middle of leaving my youth and becoming an adult.”
As I walk my body moves
My gaze begins to hallow
Slowly I detach and find
I’m watching from the outside
– “Ups / Downs,” Kirsten Ludwig
“I remember walking to Layten’s to demo and it felt like I was outside of myself, yet my body continued to function on its own. I wanted to find a way to describe this unnerving disconnection between mind and body.”
For Ludwig – and for all who listen – Sunbeam shines with a beautiful, warm, life-giving energy.
Moments of ethereal wonder sit side-by-side with radiant eruptions of self-reflection and human connection as Ludwig gracefully attempts to make sense of the madness, the mayhem, and the chaotic entropy of our silly, but precious little lives. This album is inherently kaleidoscopic, colorful, cathartic, and captivating: A sonic and spiritual release that resonates with us long after the music has faded away.
You might just say there’s something seductive about Sunbeam.
For Ludwig, this album will forever be a testament to all the effort that went into it – the person she was at the time of its creation, and the person it helped her to become.
“Everything is a journey,” she shares. “When work is released, in any capacity, the listener or viewer is not privy to the effort that went into the creation. Creating Sunbeam reminded me of how much time and energy must have gone into the records I love, reigniting a renewed sense of respect for anyone creating art. I hope listeners can find a piece of themselves in the songs and feel ignited to create something.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Kirsten Ludwig’s Sunbeam with Atwood Magazine as she takes us track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her sophomore album!
Stream: ‘Sunbeam’ – Kirsten Ludwig
:: Inside Sunbeam ::
“Less” was so refreshing to create. Being one of the first songs to come together on the album, it broke down a lot of creative barriers I had going into the process. We approached it from a place of “no idea is a bad idea” and “it’s okay to scrap everything and start over” (which we did). I love the momentum of the instrumentation, propelling you further and further into the soundscape. Alexandria Maillot’s vocal stack, echoing my main vocals in the choruses, is one of my favourite moments on the album.
As cheesy as it sounds, “Less” is my way of acknowledging that it’s possible to let the goodness of others melt away your ice-queen tendencies. I spent over half of my twenties feeling numb to the world and, one day, a warm wave of tenderness engulfed me. It’s a head-nod to those who keep showing up for me. “Less” started out as a quaint indie song with just me and my guitar. Layten Kramer (co-producer) and I knew we wanted something different from the song and we both decided to just have fun with it. My last record was this heavy, cathartic release I had been carrying around for years, so allowing myself to be playful was a new experience.
On the Outside
While spending most of my 2020 walking around my neighborhood, “On the Outside” started to trickle in–reliving memories; wishing I could alter the way I showed up in them. I began to reflect on why, throughout my life, I’ve always felt like an observer, a wallflower, and at times, invisible. Despite never pinpointing a concrete answer, it at least felt nice to put into words; that feeling of being on the outside looking in. There’s this person I truly am, and there’s this person others expect me to be for them–which one am I? From the get-go, I knew I wanted to have prominent, saturated drums; I wanted them to drive the song forward as I slipped backwards in time. I’m usually drawn to filling every pore of my songs with lush sounds, but it felt right to pare back the instrumentation and leave some breathing room; making the chorus that much more satisfying.
While Layten and I were on tour together in 2019, we listened to a lot of psych-rock, admittedly a genre I was unfamiliar with. As soon as he showed me the band Wand, I felt like a missing piece of me aligned or something; the intensity and sonic envelopment really inspired me. Layten played a huge role in shaping “Sunbeam” into a Kirsten Ludwig psych-rock song, while still offering moments of ethereal softness.
“Sunbeam” was one of those songs where everything just fell into place. It came to me in two parts – the first starting with a repetitive acoustic riff; the second after spending a psyche-y day at Layten Kramer’s studio, demoing on his zebra bean bag chair. My living room window looked over this large, empty lot and it let in the most brilliant morning light. I would always look out, praying that some developer wouldn’t discover my little haven and build out the sunlight – spoiler alert, they eventually did. My home was (and is) my safe place and I never wanted to leave the beams of my creaky apartment. I wanted to fly under the radar; could I go to the grocery store and not run into anyone I knew? Was it possible to get a coffee and not have to make small talk? I wanted to run, to hide; I wanted anything but another day in the same place. In essence, “Sunbeam” is the duality of both wanting to be seen, to be illuminated in some way; yet rejecting it out of fear and disdain for who you might become.
Whatever You Need
When I wrote Whatever You Need, it had a certain frustrated energy that quickly transformed into our own indie version of an 80s montage song. We tracked a drum sample from Layten’s organ and used it to add a softer dynamic to the low-key sections, allowing the other parts of the song to soar. Hearing the glistening 12-string come in right before the choruses always makes me smile.
In its purest form, this song is an ode to my lifelong friends. I went through some tough years and they really stood by me; always making space for me to show up just as I am. I wanted to crystalize that feeling of immense gratitude and let it live on in some tiny way.
Ups / Downs
Ups / Downs was my attempt at embodying dissociation through sound; one section leading into the next, all the synths melting together as you drift along. The clarinets bring a dark yet warm and optimistic quality that I think reflects the dichotomy between staying present and retreating into yourself.
All I Can Do
For me, All I Can Do represents the complexity of our emotions and how one end of the spectrum can coexist with the other in the same moment. I think this is reflected through the quick shift in dynamics, specifically going into the bridge. One moment you’re reassuring yourself that things will be okay and the next you’re yelling “Everything is so f***ed!” I mean, in reality it felt cathartic to yell that repeatedly into the mic.
In recent years I’ve struggled to feel connected to others, and after moving to a new city, the quiet hum of my loneliness began to amplify. One snowy evening, “Missing Out” found me; fully forming itself in 30 minutes and recording itself in an evening. It was important that the recording matched the intimacy of the lyrics. I wanted it to feel like you accidentally stumbled across my voice memos.
“Equal Distance” felt like a sonic playground when we were producing it (I’m not sure if you could tell, haha). We had so much fun sewing the vastly different parts together through vocoders, low pass filters, Quinn Bates’ iconic vocals… In 4 minutes, “Equal Distance” felt like it summed up the unexpected journey of the entire album, while still looking ahead, asking: “at the end of this all, what will you decide to hold onto?”
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© Kristina Dittmar
:: Stream Kirsten Ludwig ::