Relax. Such a loaded word. When it’s directed at you as an imperative, relaxing is usually the last thing you want to do. When you find yourself bombarded by pressures and stresses pushing you to the breaking point, repeating “Relax,” to yourself as a mantra is usually a counter-intuitive exercise in futility.
Relax is the name of KASHKA’s new album, but by her own admission, that’s not an apt description of Kat Burns’ recent activities. Since the end of her former band, Forest City Lovers, Burns has immersed herself in KASHKA’s synth-based songwriting style. Two previous full-length albums, a handful of singles, contributing not one but two covers to a compilation series, establishing a vibrant and active online video channel, and touring “living rooms and backyards” leaves no time for relaxation. Oh, and she’s also had a hand in opening a craft brewery. So yeah, slacking off is not an option in Kat Burns’ world.
In hindsight, this flurry of activity may have been Burns’ subconscious effort to mask internal struggles and conflicts from the outside world. In a statement about the record, Burns acknowledges that Relax comes out of “…two years of writer’s block, travel, heaviness, frustration, and a lot of figuring out who I am, as a woman in this industry.” In other words, it’s the product of being human.
It’s that raw and vulnerable humanity that makes Relax such a compelling and engaging musical statement. Amidst the structured and sterile sounds of synths and 808 beats, emerges an intensely human voice. Burns exhibits both strength and fragility on “Float Away” and “Holding Steady”, making the balancing of both extremes seem effortless and commonplace. “If I could count up all the hours that I’ve spent / lost in worry, apprehension or regret,” she sings on the latter, “It would become so clear that we’ve learned to fear / the line of what was said and what was really meant.” Relax feels like a breakthrough for Burns, personally and professionally. It’s as close to the folky, introspective roots laid down by Forest City Lovers as KASHKA’s ever come. The beautiful symmetry between Kat Burns’ past and present on Relax suggests there will be little time for relaxation in KASHKA’s future.