Indistinct Conversations is an album of lucid clarity and insight: it’s the feeling that comes with discovering your true self, of making peace with who you are and who you think others expect you to be.
There’s a playful incongruity in a band named Land of Talk releasing a record titled Indistinct Conversations. Singer-songwriter Elizabeth Powell has never been one to let lyrics speak literally, preferring to express themselves emotionally through powerful songs that veil their true meaning behind poetry. Indistinct Conversations, the band’s fourth full-length, may just be Powell’s clearest statement to date, a record of quiet intensity that asserts a sense of self and self-acceptance in a way that previous Land of Talk albums have avoided.
Using opaque lyrics to keep their audience at a distance has always been Powell’s way of self-preservation. Think of the anthemic indie-rock riffs of 2010’s Cloak and Cipher and opaque lyrical references of 2017’s seven-year-hiatus-ending Life After Youth as both shield and sword; a way of publicly excising the scars of personal traumas while maintaining a sense of privacy. Indistinct Conversations feels like a different exercise altogether. Powell and original Land of Talk bandmates Mark “Bucky” Wheaton (on drums and keyboards) and Christopher McCarron (on bass) recorded the album in Wheaton’s DIY home studio, which may account for its intimate, often hushed sound. On “Look to You”, it feels as if they’re trying their hardest not to wake the neighbours while still getting their point across; its steady and low, rumbling rhythm reaches its boiling point before a rough and ragged muted guitar solo scatters its energy. Where songs were once rooted in wiry electric guitars, Powell’s acoustic playing is front and centre on “Weight of That Weekend”, a song they explicitly say is about sexual assault, personal violation, and male privilege that’s gone unchecked for too long. Powell’s voice is most emotive and sweet singing the lines “Holy Water. / House of Pain. / Wanna heal from slaughter / and swim again.” The song ends with the words “This is a prayer for love” written emphatically in all caps on the lyric sheet as if to further punctuate the serious point on one of the album’s most tender songs.
Going back to the title Indistinct Conversations, in a recent interview with Vish Khanna, Powell described the album name as having its origins in the inevitable hearing loss touring musicians experience, saying that they often need closed captions to follow the dialogue in television and movies. Then, without prompting, Powell goes even deeper, trying their hardest to describe the sensation of not being able to discern what others are saying around them: “I also feel like… the outside world, all these people around me, everyone I know is operating on this frequency that I can’t quite key into. I feel like if I can get just a little closer; if I can just put the glass up against the door… whatever that feeling is… [Indistinct Conversations] kind of means a lot more than even I would understand.” While Powell may feel like they’re fumbling for an explanation, what they describe makes perfect sense, and supports what makes Indistinct Conversations an album of lucid clarity and insight: it’s the feeling that comes with discovering your true self, of making peace with who you are and who you think others expect you to be. It’s knowing there is a place in the vast and varied world for you and that a life well-lived is a life lived in pursuit of that truth.