Rachel Gollay’s music is deceptive.
What seems at first blush to be deliberate, exacting and polished (which, make no mistake, the Fort Worth singer-songwriter’s songs are very much all of those), actually contains a riot of human feeling, messy and complicated emotions roiling beneath that considered surface.
It’s tempting to spin Override, Gollay’s first full-length album in five years, following up her superb 2014 debut LP Built for Love, and assume, perhaps, that the world’s state of semi-permanent disorder is somehow the primary driver of said complicated messiness. Yes and no: Gollay doesn’t deny the events of the last 31 months have unquestionably filtered into her music, but there’s more going on than simply knee-jerk reaction.
“Writing music is an exercise in processing both my inner and outer world, so the turbulence in our current landscape definitely found its way to the songs – I think for a lot of artists and creators that’s inevitable,” she tells the Observer via email.
That process begets exquisite beauty in the pain and confusion threaded through Override’s 10 tracks. Gollay, again working in lockstep with collaborators Russell Jack, Joshua Ryan Jones, Taylor Tatsch, Zachary Balch, Billy Naylor and Jay Jennings, has delivered a sophomore effort cementing her status as one of the preeminent musicians in North Texas.
Deeper, darker and sharper than Built for Love, Override, recorded mainly at Jack’s Fort Worth home, as well as Audiostyles in Dripping Springs and Dallas’ Flint Creek Records, unfurls like some kind of gorgeous nightmare. Singling out a highlight is challenging, particularly because Gollay eagerly (and ably) tries on several different styles over the record’s concise 37 minutes: There’s the snarling, punk-tinged sparkle of “White Stag,” a tart counterpoint to the darkly luminous, anthemic “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and the synth-streaked urgency of “Strike.” The connective thread between the sonic shifts is Gollay’s gripping alto, itself a cut-glass marvel of musicianship.
Fittingly, Override’s journey began with a track titled “The Key,” the creative genesis of which Gollay describes as “a hazy but acute mix of post-election dread and a particularly gnarly bout of the flu.”
“My outer landscape was a hot mess and inner landscape was awash in cough medicine,” Gollay explains in her email. “The months – years – that followed, I didn’t really set out to write overtly political tunes. The songs themselves are processed mostly through lenses of fascinations I gravitated to during the time.”
Those fascinations — among other things, are, as she lists “artificial intelligence and singularity, unsolved murders and serial killers (and) lots of Netflix” — do, however, co-exist with Gollay’s other, more pressing sociopolitical concerns, which found the singer-songwriter more openly engaging with causes like Planned Parenthood, during a cultural moment when musicians often must consider the ramifications of taking a stand for their beliefs and passions.
“I’ve admittedly been waking up to the ways this country and this world have stacked the odds against marginalized folks,” Gollay writes. “Part of that for me is committing not to return to complacency after the next election cycle or two, because no matter who’s running the country, we still have work to sustain for the long haul.
“I’ve spent recent years finding ways I can participate in struggles that long predated 2016, and want to amplify and aid the work being done by a lot of incredible people — anti-racist organizers, pro-choice advocates, immigration rights activists, harm reductionists fighting the overdose crisis. If I’ve got the time, capacity and relative privilege to aid in this work, I can’t not do it.”
That sensitivity to the human condition has always been reflected in Gollay’s music, even if, before last summer and the release of the Player EP, those who were fans of that music had to content themselves with listening to Built for Love for the umpteenth time (which, if you haven’t done, you really, really should).
The five-year gap between her last two albums wasn’t intentional — “Where does the time go?” Gollay wondered in our email exchange — but rather, reflects her desire to make sure what’s being heard is exactly what’s intended.
“We certainly take our time, and are under our own self-imposed schedules when it comes to releases,” she writes. “It lets us be deliberate with the process of building the songs from the ground up, take a step back and listen with fresh ears when we need to get some critical distance, and really zero in on whether the direction we’re going on any given song is the right one.”
Such intentional creativity and clarity of vision yield dividends, as well as something which, in 2019, feels faintly quaint: a full-length record designed to be consumed whole, rather than piecemeal. It is, not unfairly, something of an expectation that those who press play on this album will give to it as much as Gollay and her collaborators did.
“I think what makes Override really special is the immersive potential, of entering into the textures and impressions, sonically and lyrically, by sitting down and listening from start to finish,” Gollay writes. “It can be ‘experienced’ as a cohesive work from start to finish, if that’s what you’re craving. It might be the perfect excuse to set aside a half-hour to be still — without screens, without notifications — and listen.”
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Still, and to briefly return to the notion of deception, it’s important to stress that Override isn’t homework. (Nor is Gollay so hidebound she expects everyone to ingest the album in one sitting or even in the same sequence: “I really want people to just enjoy listening to these songs in ways that are natural to them,” Gollay writes. “That’s partly why the album is digital-only — that’s just how most of us listen these days.”)
However it’s consumed, the alternately eerie and ebullient album pulls you in, inviting you to get lost in its loveliness, and converting the skeptics and the unfamiliar into fans, eager to know when Gollay’s next live performance might be (on that score, it’ll be awhile: She says the full band’s next gig isn’t until Sept. 13, as part of the Friday on the Green concert series in Fort Worth).
“Despite the tinges of doom or unease I talked about weaving through the album, the songs themselves aren’t dirges,” Gollay writes. “Many of them are up-tempo (or) danceable even? At least something you could queue up while hitting a punching bag. In that sense, I hope listening feels cathartic.”
A sweet sting, then — clarity sifted from chaos. The brilliance of Rachel Gollay’s art provides us gleaming songs pulsing with life, a welcome respite from internal and external storms alike.