Charlotte Cornfield doubles down on capturing small, inconsequential moments and invests them with significance, wisdom, and poetry.
What makes Charlotte Cornfield such an extraordinary songwriter is the exquisite way she presents the everyday ordinariness of life in her music. She is a connoisseur of micro-interactions: watching someone drink coffee, a kiss that tastes like cigarettes, buying gum from a local deli. On her fourth album, Highs in the Minuses, Cornfield doubles down on capturing small, inconsequential moments and invests them with significance, wisdom, and poetry.
After an early pandemic spell of writing the bulk of Highs in the Minuses alone, Cornfield was itching for some human-to-human connections like most of us. Assembling a kick-ass band featuring Alexandra Levy (of Ada Lea) on bass, Liam O’Neill (of Suuns) on drums, and vocal contributors Amy Millan (of Stars) and Sam Gleason (who’s worked with Tim Baker in the past), she brought her newly drafted vignettes into the studio for a brief but highly productive five-day session. That quick work gives songs like opener “Skateboarding by the Lake,” lead single “Headlines,” and “Drunk for You” their spontaneity and carefree swagger.
And while the looseness of the band and Cornfield’s natural cadence are easy on the ears, she uses the music as cover for deploying her secret weapon: the wonderfully specific-yet-universally understood stories at the heart of her lyrics. “You never brought me up enough / To really let me down / You were just trying to mitigate the thing,” she sings to a former love?/crush?/fling? on “Pac-Man,” before dropping the indictment, “But you never told me that you’d already bought her a ring.” On “Partner in Crime,” Cornfield captures the heady high of first encounters, singing about spilling a glass of water, finding herself “rapt” and “disarmed” by sincerity and wondering — in real-time — if all this is really happening to her.
And therein lies the disarming and sincere charm of Highs in the Minuses: while Cornfield shares what her pandemic has been like with listeners, it’s easy to substitute ourselves into the narratives. For me, that’s most evident on “Destroy Me,” the album’s coda: “My anxiety’s crippling, and where did it come from? / And where is it going, and will it destroy me?” By not answering her own questions, Cornfield leaves room for her audience to join the conversation. It’s that open and invitational feeling permeating Highs in the Minuses that sets Cornfield apart from her contemporaries as a songwriter, and this album from other pandemic-influenced releases. Even before the vaccines were announced and discussions about the lifting of lockdowns went from if to when Cornfield had already written the perfect record for coming out of this season of minuses. Sitting down with these songs feels like catching up face-to-face with someone you haven’t seen in person in twenty months, and that’s a high I can’t get enough of right now.
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