One of the first things to notice about the record is its lyrical repetition. Time and again, Indigo De Souza seizes upon a particular turn of phrase—often one that might not even strike you as all that profound, the first time she sings it—and turns it over and over in her mouth, letting different permutations of the tone and tenor saturate the music. And as it happens, the words start to take on new meanings, each subsequent delivery triggering some hitherto untapped emotional wellspring, until what first seemed common now feels cathartic. It’s there in the endlessly repeated “going” on “Real Pain,” drawn out progressively slower and darker, until dissolving in a morass of screams. It happens on “Die/Cry,” where she sings “I’d rather die, before you die, before you die” so many times, it loses the inherent darkness and instead becomes a cry of passionate defiance. And it’s there in the “Was it something I said?” from “Darker Than Death,” each repeat of the question teasing a new wrinkle.
That sense of depth through repetition, of discovering ever more potent forms of musicality and meaning through the endless iteration of a phrase, isn’t just a time-honored tactic of pop music. It’s one of the most valuable aspects of any musical composition, as everyone from Phillip Glass to Madonna could attest. And it finds exhilarating new purpose on Any Shape You Take, the sophomore album from Asheville, North Carolina-based musician Indigo De Souza. Over the course of 10 songs, De Souza grapples with love, lust, heartache, depression, internal contradictions, and emotional support—sometimes all in the course of a single track—through a record that rediscovers the rough-edged, distorted beauty of indie rock, too often suppressed in the name of studio polish and “accessibility.”
Which isn’t to say that the album isn’t meticulously arranged and layered, each song engineered to showcase its particular merits and meaning. It’s simply that, in comparison to so many other artists attempting to straddle the line between gritty, unvarnished rock and car-commercial-friendly production values, De Souza refuses to tamp down her idiosyncratic instincts. There’s no smoothing-over of the explosive vocal deliveries, no shaving off the ever-so-slightly excessive screech of distortion during a jagged bridge or coda. This is the sound of an album so wholly alive, so in touch with its messy, organic thicket of emotions and competing musical influences, that even the restrained groove-pop of “Hold U,” with its dancefloor rhythms and radio-ready hook, contains moments where De Souza’s voice exceeds the bounds of the melody, pushing past the expected range and beyond the listener’s defenses to create an unexpected moment of unsettling grace.
Any Shape You Take begins with a track that’s almost like a Trojan horse: The opening seconds of “17" feature De Souza singing pretty, replete with a standard-issue auto-tune, as though wanting to welcome listeners with the sound of something familiar from the current indie-pop landscape. “Darling, if you need me, I’ll be right here / I’ve come to rescue,” she utters, as the synths gently rise, and even more affected vocals rise up behind it, before a broadly appealing rhythm kicks in. With sweetly sincere lines about care and affection, it’s as though she doesn’t want to scare you away too soon, instead providing maybe the catchiest and most retro-’80s sounds of the album. But then, “Darker Than Death” begins, bringing a stammering hi-hat and a minimalist guitar lick. And with a “Dear darlin’, I’m sorry, I never meant to / stay out so late,” it erupts into a fierce riff. Suddenly, there’s something profound taking place.
From there, the tempestuous emotional roller-coaster of lacerating vulnerability never lets up. Lo-fi indie guitar swing of the K Records variety (“Die/Cry”), earnest bedroom pop (“Pretty Pictures”), overdriven mid-’90s alt-rock reminiscent of Helium (“Bad Dream”): all gain potency through De Souza’s grainy, deep-throated voice and open-wound language. It’s an overused cliché to describe lyrics as “raw-nerve” or “confessional”—most of the time, it just means words that sound like they could’ve been lifted directly from someone’s diary, for better or worse. But in the case of Indigo De Souza, the description is apt; there’s a sense that she’s tapping into something achingly exposed and uncomfortably honest, and, through sheer force of delivery, finding those buried places in you as well. At times, it can feel like we’re hearing something too private—eavesdropping on a manifesto meant for an audience of one. “I don’t think I’m ready for a clean-cut kind of love,” she sings on “Bad Dream,” and with the juddering start-stop of fuming rock behind the sentiment, it takes on a strangely universal urgency.
For all the earworm appeal of “Pretty Pictures” or “Hold U,” Any Shape You Take achieves its finest moments of tension and release in the messy, live instrumentation and jagged guitar squalls. Whether in the slow-build moments of rambling rhythms and jangling guitars on “Late Night Crawlers,” or the blasts of pounding drums and start-stop noise that arrive in the coda of “Way Out,” De Souza’s talent for taking the basic makeup of a four-piece rock band and wielding it like a scalpel—albeit one that’s spilling blood left and right—is a gift few possess. By the arrival of closing number “Kill Me” (arguably one of the more unguarded and affecting songs of the year), the record has achieved a rare quality: It sounds as though it was made just for you.