White Sea: In Cold Blood - Morgan Kibby is back. The M83 collaborator has hinted and teased with individual releases from a solo project called White Sea, but for years, it didn’t seem like anything bigger was coming.
It has. In Cold Blood, the premier full-length album from the synth-pop darling, isn’t quite the powerhouse hit-release that listeners were expecting, but it’s in that disconnect that Kibby shows off her strength. With bold theatrics and wild abandon, she tackles her own monsters and lays herself bare in a raw but still enjoyably engaging piece of personal art.
There’s a soul-stirring drama to the album that masks any technical imperfections, a thick, dusky veneer of guttural vocals and impassioned, driving basslines that blur the borderland between the deliberate and the incidental aspects of the album and give it a sense of raw, intentional magnitude. It’s not enough of a departure from M83’s work to call it something new; certainly Kibby’s vocals and keyboard helped build them up in their own right to be impassioned and sensory. It’s perhaps the sincerity that makes White Sea distinct, forgoing the electro-pop cannon in favor of more tangible, more relatable compositions.
What was eclipsed in collaborative work has been allowed to shine through on In Cold Blood. Musically, it’s a safer route with its heavy pop undertones and lightweight synth, but it’s a testament to the artist as an individual, whose own heartbreak and determination ring out between the occasionally too-heavy metallic chimes. ‘They Don’t Know’, the album’s opening track, is in many ways the most expected piece, rich and scintillating while still being perfectly radio-friendly. It’s the kind of track used to pacify critics and lull passive listeners, loaded with hooks and pushing out imposing melodies.
The rest of the album has a slightly different lilt. Equal parts ’80s-style synth and hi-fi choral blends, it bounces back and forth between the familiar and the experimental, drawing on some of M83’s more successful injections but never compromising its own identity. When it’s allowed, Kibby’s voice is a pure but sweeping instrument, and if nothing else, that sets In Cold Blood apart from anything she’s put herself into before. There are moments when it’s hiding, when songs have been over-produced, when what could be a powerhouse performance is otherwise obscured by layers of equally over-the-top instrumentation, but on tracks like ‘For My Love’ and ‘Small December’, when it’s brought out in full force, it’s nothing short of incredible.
What’s equally as astounding is that Kibby has been sitting on this album, tweaking and perfecting it for a full year before its release. It’s not an uncommon practice by any means, and certainly fans have been waiting for an M83 follow-up longer than they’ve know about White Sea, but as a debut album, it means attention and deliberation. White Sea has in no way come out saying that the release is perfect, but with those levels of post-production attention, it very much seems like this is in many ways the album the project was looking to put out.
For the time it takes, In Cold Blood is worth the listen. It’s not an all-occasions album, and it’s not a perfect listen, but it’s one built on heart, and in many ways, its diamond-in-the-rough qualities make those moments of true brilliance all the more exciting to discover. What it is, and really all it needs to be, is an incredible first LP from a project that’s sure to grow, experiment and mature and a writer whose talented enough to break out on her own…7.1/10