Haley Blais 

Arts & Crafts • 2023

Haley Blais’s Wisecrack walks the line between radio pop and experimental alternative.

“I’d kill to be a sensitive person” are the first words on Haley Blais’s Wisecrack, hinting at the many paradoxes and logical fallacies explored throughout the rest of the 11-track album.

Over its 45-minute run time, several moments are so emotionally resonant and perfectly produced I can’t help but get lost in them. At the top of my list is “Cabin,” which begins with an aggressive, start-and-stop part and immediately drops into sparse, twangy folk. Relatively early on, the punch of punk demands attention and reminds us that Wisecrack is not background noise. This in-your-face, manic approach is jarring but playful, giving what could have easily been a very stylistically consistent song a delicious edge.

Wisecrack is warm and delicate one moment (“I deserve this / it’s not absurd / I’m the hardest person I could care for”), morbid and dry the next (“Can’t a girl mourn the death of her dog in the back of a theatre in piece anymore?”). Haley Blais paints a portrait of a person equally frustrated with and in love with themselves, at once desperate for validation and exhausted by others. They are a person who feels so deeply they’re afraid to feel at all but who yearns to be better all the time despite themselves.

The opener best demonstrates this: “My heart, it beats so closely to the blade / And if I pierce it, and I’ve come close, I’d just pour salt into the wound / Because I hate the sweetness of the blood.” Then, hardly intelligible, countless layers of her voice overlap and compete: “The only mercy that I give is for the bugs.” 

Other bits force me to be totally present and alone with the music: The guitar solo on “Body” is chill-inducing, and the vocal effect on “Beginner’s guide to birdwatching” fills me with childlike wonder. It’s part demo, part orchestral arrangement, making for a closer that feels like a collage of memories between Blais and her collaborators. 

It’s exciting to see this kind of complexity from such a prolific and seasoned artist. With all its lyrical depth and instrumental spontaneity, Wisecrack feels bolder and more experimental than her past work. The words are raw and reflective, the music is textural and inviting, and in combination, it makes for a deeply gratifying listen.

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