On Charlotte Cornfield’s 2019 third album, songs that appear to be straightforward in their subject, arrangement, and performance host a multitude of meanings and musicality.
Much of the narrative around the April 2019 release of The Shape of Your Name was that, for her third album, Charlotte Cornfield was giving up her day job as the booker at Toronto’s Burdock. Every article and review seems to suggest that, unburdened by her gig programming music performances for the busy venue, the story seemed to go, Cornfield could now focus on songwriting and performance. It’s an angle that implies she wasn’t wholly invested in her craft and musical career over her previous records (2011’s Two Horses, 2015’s Future Snowbird and a pair of early EPs), which is bullshit, frankly. As if multitasking and having multiple projects on the go somehow lessens one’s ability to do any one thing fully and completely. The more I return to The Shape of Your Name (and I’ve been dipping into it regularly over the last twenty months), the more it reveals its highly focused and nuanced style, Cornfield’s attention to lyrical detail and subtle musical arrangements.
Cornfield’s music is the epitome of strength in subtlety. There’s nothing flashy or showy about the songs or Cornfield’s presentation of them. Opener “June” is arresting in its conversational tone even though lyrically, it’s a cornucopia of poetic couplets: “Your lips are loose and full of ego / And still I come here just to see you.” She writes in such specific details that you immediately assume the song is autobiographical. Yet, there’s a universality to the themes, emotions, and experiences that translate from person to person. Even the ubiquitous silver Honda Civic gets its moment in the spotlight on “Silver Civic,” a breakup ballad six years after the fact. “I read our letters now / How could you have felt those things, packed up / And driven out of town,” she sings in her restrained style while enunciating every unresolved emotion in her heart.
And therein lies the marvel of Cornfield’s multitasking abilities: even a song that appears to be straightforward in its subject, arrangement, and performance hosts a multitude of meaning and musicality. It’s in the way the opening swells of “Storm Clouds” suggest the impending swirl of emotions her wordy, witty lyrics are about to reveal: “The character wasn’t real / Had that 80’s handsome Kevin Bacon type feel / Tall with sunglasses eyes / A pretty hollow disguise”. The Shape of Your Name is best experienced when you can slow down and stop your own multitasking and give yourself over to Cornfield’s slow-burning, steel-eyed songwriting. If you’re anything like me, you will find pearls of wisdom in her witty words, have the occasional chuckle at her dry humour, and revel in her melodies. I just hope that it doesn’t take you two years to appreciate The Shape of Your Name’s subtle charm and intricate artistry the way it has taken me.