"Who are you trying to impress when you pray?...How many things can go on in a day/That you stay on your knees so long?" starts "The Rope," the lead single from New Jersey singer-songwriter Chloe Baker, known on stage as Bitter's Kiss.
The track, like many songs on Bitter's Kiss' self-titled debut album, is so well-anchored by its atmospheric arrangement and Baker's enchanting voice that if you aren't listening closely, you might miss the lyrics' poignant exploration of teen suicide, made apparent with lines like, "There's a quicker way to heaven if you can find yourself a rope."
Both Bitter's Kiss' dusky sound and thematic focus on life's darker, more painful realities naturally evoke comparisons to fellow East-Coaster Lana Del Rey. Like Lana, Chloe debuts with support from her instrumentalist father, Michael, the other half of her act. The two recorded and produced the album together in their home studio over the course of several months.
Other tracks, including "No One Will" , "Love Won't Make You Cry," and their most recent single, "Friday Nights," parallel Lorde, another teenage singer-songwriter with musical maturity beyond her years. If David Bowie's prophetic instinct that Lorde is the future of music turns out to be true (and, let's face it, it's Bowie -- it probably will), there's no doubt Lorde will find herself in the company of Bitter's Kiss in just a matter of time.
However, the album, like any artist's first foray into recording, isn't perfect. Its weakest track, "Lovin' Life," plays like an early Sara Bareilles song that likely wouldn't make the cut on her albums today, and displays a more GAP-compilation-CD path Bitter's Kiss could potential take, which would likely be the wrong one.
But a few flouncy tracks do little to lessen the emotional impact of the album as a whole. "Waste of it All" and "Already Gone" carry listeners back into Bitter's impressive melodic world, demonstrating yet another route Barker might toy around with in the future (a more expensive one that'd have to happen after the success of her first radio single, when her production value increases), with symphonic instrumentation similar to arrangements found on Airborne Toxic Event LPs and some of Brandi Carlile's more sweeping recordings.
The bottom line with Barker -- for me, at least -- is she reintroduces us to a time in pop-culture when the diary-style lyrics of everyone from Riot Grrrl musicians to Lilith Fair acts were allowed to enter the mainstream and take even the most macho radio listeners on catchy journeys into young women's most private moments and thoughts. With 90's trends reviving in full force, Bitter's Kiss' storytelling and aesthetic seem poised to hit at the right place and time. If this cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" doesn't get you excited for her impending moment, you just aren't hearing it right.