Kittens Slay Dragons - Big Big Heart (2017)

Written by Monty Wright, posted by blog admin

Singer/songwriter Sarah Donner’s electropop project Kittens Slay Dragons has released a stunning debut entitled Big Big Heart that’s sure to challenge any preconceptions you might have about electronic music’s sustainability. The ten songs on this collection are wildly entertaining, but they likewise make uniquely imaginative and personal statements not typical of efforts in this vein. It is united by a theme, but Donner and her collaborator $hClane! never belabor that point. The songwriting dovetails naturally into one another and there is an ultimate unity of purpose that brings things together rather than leaving the connecting tissue too obvious. Despite working under an alternative moniker, Donner’s voice emerges through the electronic treatment to make a clear personal statement that happens to have wide audience appeal.

“Gatekeeper” opens with some dizzying synth lines that give it a distinctly upbeat feel. The percussion is unobtrusive once it enters and Donner’s voice matches its energy with her own highly stylized passion. She knows just when to ramp up the vocal intensity and when to relax into more muted, reflective passages. The strong presence of electronica continues to hold sway on the next song. “Castiel” has a much more assertive, urgent tone thanks to its insistent and hard hitting beat, but the clipped quality of the vocal melody has a similar effect on the final product. It’s much less of a plaintively emotional tune than the opener, but still quite effective in a different fashion. “Smile Pretty” has been rightly tapped as an album single and it’s easy to hear why. Electronica is still a dominant musical force, but it is a much more reflective performance both lyrically and musically while seizing upon a vocal melody guaranteed to capture listener’s attention.

More shimmering synth lines begin “Big Big Heart” and the pensive tempo that the song takes is wholly appropriate for this lyric and Donner’s obvious preference for a patient, slowly developing vocal. We get some more insistent tempos augmented by electronic instruments on the track “Queer and Square”. The quality of empathy in Donner’s writing is extraordinary and rarely more so than here. Her willingness to identify herself with the sensitive and occasionally downtrodden is an abiding element of her songwriting and benefits here from a full on, energetic electronic treatment. “Symbols in the Sky” has much more of an outright groove, admittedly stripped down to its essence, but it nevertheless gives Donner’s vocal an extraordinary vehicle through which to get across her point of view. The album’s penultimate tune, “Eggs”, has a surprisingly hard edge for this material, but it never sounds incongruous or unbelievable either on its own or set against the other tracks. It’s just another side of Donner’s musical personality coming to the fore and sports a remarkable lyric. “Head Down, Heart Up” is a bouncy finale for the album that reflects a great deal of its creator’s indefatigable spirit. It’s an excellent way to conclude this album and promises to send listeners away with a smile on their faces.

Grade: A