New from Sarah Welch-Larson on Substack: 24: Beach Houses and Pop Songs

This weekend a female pop singer-songwriter with blonde hair, a distinctive voice, a knack for writing sharp lyrics and hooks, and a keen sense of her audience released an album. That’s right, I’m talking about Carly Rae Jepsen and her newest record, The Loneliest Time.

Jepsen sings about what it feels like to fall in and out of love with an earnestness that would hurt if she weren’t so good at channeling it into the feeling of leaving a first date excited for the next one. “Call Me Maybe” is fun to dance to at weddings because it’s so theatrical, but it’s also calculated to the point of almost sounding canned: short, simple lines for the chorus, lyrics that are easy to act out while you’re bobbing to a beat. The song’s syrupy earnestness underlines its point, which is that having a crush makes you say and do stupid things to strangers sometimes. (The music video layers on additional irony by revealing the boy Jepsen is chasing isn’t straight, which makes her pursuit even more pathetic. The joke’s on her, and she knows it.)

In the decade since “Call Me Maybe” first hit the radio, Jepsen’s writing has sharpened. Her lyrics maintain that same level of deceptive simplicity from her early work, but the sense of humor she showed in the “Call Me Maybe” music video has only gotten sharper. “Beach House,” a single from The Loneliest Time, lists a slew of suitors by number and their failings, then telling them in the chorus to “say it like you mean it” when they profess their love to a girl. The boys in question all respond enthusiastically, “I’ve got a beach house in Malibu / and I’m probably gonna hurt your feelings.” The line about the beach house is punchy and upbeat; the follow-up punchline slithers down into a lower, smoother register, another sign of Jepsen’s skill as a songwriter. She doesn’t just write funny, earnest lyrics. She knows her way around a beat.

The rest of The Loneliest Time lives up to the promise of its singles. This newest album has a tang of disco about it. The bass lines play with time more fluidly than your typical cookie-cutter pop song. Her soprano has a touch of vocal fry when she’s stretching out a vowel, which contrasts with the almost too-perfect synths and drum kits. Every hook is distinctive, and they all make me want to dance. Most of the songs on The Loneliest Time last about two and a half minutes. She’s not going to waste anyone’s time, she’s just going to get in, deliver another banger, and then keep delivering them until the record’s over. I’ll keep spinning her on repeat until the next one.

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What I wrote:

For paid subscribers, I wrote about Boris Karloff.

What I talked about:

Every month at Seeing & Believing, we run a bonus episode so we can talk about a movie we might not have been able to cover on the main show. October’s bonus was about Andrew Dominik’s Blonde. It’s a thorny movie, and I’m glad I was able to have a nuanced discussion about it.

For the main episode of Seeing & Believing this week, Kevin and I went long on TÁR and John Cassavetes’ 1977 film Opening Night.

What I watched:

The Chicago International Film Festival is wrapping up this weekend. I was fortunate enough to catch a few screenings, including Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun. It’s out in limited release at the moment. If it’s playing near you, go see it. It’s tender and perceptive, content to trade traces of plot for shots of empty rooms—a vibes movie, which fits its vacation setting, although the vibes pile up like waves until they pack a wallop. I could see the ending coming, but that ending was expressed so elegantly that it knocked me off my axis. I’m still thinking about the final shot, days later.

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