This fresh-faced young singer-songwriter from the north end of Houston was one of the first artists I wrote a CD review for here in the electronic pages of Rocks Off. Her debut EP, No Surprises, lied right to my face because I was surprised to hear someone who at the time was just 14 years old reach down into the depths of the human heart and draw forth clean, cold water for the parched soul.
It was four simple songs that were some of the truest things I'd ever heard. I hated her for that, absolutely hated someone so young who could shine so bright.
For two years I've been stalking her, pestering her online and jumping out of bushes [Not really -- ed.] to demand an answer for when I'd get a follow-up disc, and she's finally delivered one, Nocturnal. Was No Surprises a fluke? No, she's still brilliant and I still can't freakin' stand that it should be so.
Kyle Hutton steps in as producer this round, and he's helped expand her stylistic range a great deal. Not that I had any problem listening to her straight acoustipop approach. The album opens with "Move On" with which fans of No Suprises should feel right at home.
It's an achingly beautiful track that calls to mind her previous song, "Destiny." There's a profound emptiness and introspection that sets Hallberg apart. "Move On" is that talk you have at the end of a relationship, it's the postscript to a laundry list of bitter disappointments and the hard decision to live your life or just lose it the name of entropy to an inferior heart.
Much of the album is romantically inclined, which is slightly creepy when you remind yourself that Hallberg hasn't tossed her high school graduation cap into the air yet (Seriously girl, "The question that is burning is who is keeping me warm at night?").
It's been a fair few years since I was incarcerated in the public-education system, but I don't particularly remember being in love in a way that would birth these kind of songs. It's another reason to loathe her. No one else I know got to be that alive in school. It's not fair.
Hallberg plays some with her structure, going straight country on "Lovely" and full-on grrl rock on "Whole Lot Better." If that latter track doesn't end up on a soundtrack sometime in the future I'll eat my hat. They're good tunes, but it's somber strummer songs I love the best.
A night person like most writers, Hallberg's title track is an ode to those of us who live for the sounds of a quiet house, and the anonymity of dusk. It's the only time, often, that you can hear yourself in this modern world.
Somewhere tonight she'll be sitting up in the same dark as the rest of us, but she'll be doing that better than us as well. Everything she does, including Nocturnal, is too good to stand. I really, really hate this kid.
I got a chance to ask her a few questions via email about Nocturnal. Click on over to page 2 for the interview.
Rocks Off: I know I sound old when I say this, but you seem so young to sing with such depth about relationships and love. How much of your music comes from personal experiences?
Kathryn Hallberg: I usually start with personal experience and embellish. I think a lot of what I do is just build on a basic feeling. I turn my unrequited crushes into songs about love and heartbreak, which is sometimes just a larger scale of what I'm actually feeling, and I hope that it makes the songs more relatable to others.
RO: What do you like the most about being up late at night?
KH: It's quiet and peaceful, but there's an excitement about the night time as well, like anything could happen. It's a time to be alone with your thoughts and sort things out before the next day comes.
RO: Stylistically you're a lot more diverse this time around, with straight country on "Lovely" and rock on "Whole Lot Better." Did you set out to do that when you wrote those songs, or did that evolve in recording?
KH: We picked those particular songs with the intent of showing a range of styles, but I never sat down and deliberately wrote a country song or a rock song for this project. The songs just came out that way, and were developed further and enhanced in the studio production.
RO: Am I going to have to wait another three years for another EP?
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KH: Haha! Hopefully not!
Nocturnal is available April 24.