Singer-songwriter Talena Bricker’s latest EP, War Lines, is an engaging indie-folk offering that balances poetic abstraction with visceral emotionality. It’s a rare feat to be broadly resonate yet wield mystique. The result is that the Pacific Northwest native’s sophomore album satisfies like a work of literature, and it rewards with repeated listens. The more you immerse yourself in Talena’s songs, the more meaning you find.
“When I write, I’m grappling with complicated feelings and narratives. I ask questions in music and leave things open-ended and unresolved. That’s life, and that’s what feels human to me. It brings me a beautiful catharsis, and it helps me to connect with others as they can use these songs to make sense of their own lives,” the Richland, Washington-based artist shares.
After decades of privately writing songs, in 2018 Talena boldly stepped forward with her debut EP. Her first release was an intimate voice and acoustic guitar record that earned rave reviews from online outlets such as Ear To The Ground and When The Horn The Blows. Since then, Talena has grown artistically through playing shows, and sharing her music in front of live audiences. Her latest release, War Lines, finds her incorporating a lusher Americana soundscape into her literate indie-folk. This expanded palette of instrumentation includes ethereal pedal steel, pastoral violin flourishes, and sensitive guitar, bass, and drums interplay. Talena’s latest work recalls the subtle country-tinged beauty of songwriter indie artists such as Gregory Alan Isakov, Patrick Park, and John Paul White. The 5-song EP was recorded at Rye Room in Portland by studio owner and producer Matt Greco.
The title “War Lines” is powerfully evocative, though it’s also a little opaque. Talena says: “I was in a place of major growth in my life while writing these songs. I learned how to set boundaries, sometimes I broke down boundaries—for good and bad—so, partly, the songs and the title come from this push and pull, battles, wins, and failures.”
The EP’s title track features a rich emotional and sonic tapestry. There is a longing coursing through the song mirrored by haunting pedal steel and sweetly sorrowful singing enriched by layers of airy harmony vocals. The emotive urgency is set from the opening lyrics of: I’m afraid that the lamp at the door/Is gonna go out it won’t shine evermore/Will you know where to find me at night/When I am asleep and there is no light? A constant in Talena’s work is the inspiration of nature; rustic environs are a muse and a metaphor. The delicate “Fold” features breathtaking imaging that is as transporting as it is emotionally stirring. Here, her words are supported by delicate folk acoustic guitar fingerpicking.
The single “In Betweens” opens with a mesmerizing minor-key descending melodic figure that establishes the song’s mood. Here, Talena’s vocals have an elegant flutter—they’re stirring and emotive yet also float along elegantly. With lyrics such as: Some are born while others are dying/Some of us loving while some of us are losing/Sometimes giving and sometimes we’re using, it can be interpreted that the song alludes to making sense of lifechanging shakeups. Talena reveals: “I wrote this song two years ago. I had 4 children, the youngest still a baby, and I was just starting to figure out how to live a life outside of my four walls. I was someone who needed fresh air, space, freedom, while also wanting the white picket family. I was someone who wanted a close relationship, but also sometimes feels claustrophobic. For me, this song is mostly about balance and mental health.”
The rousing single, “Done No Wrong,” conjures starry nights of contemplation when everything is beautiful around you while pain smolders inside your heart. That juxtaposition is brought home with lonesome pedal steel guitar textures and the song’s country-tinged melancholic tonality. The lyrics here are pent-up and poetic. One choice portion includes: You can’t wash me clean and you won’t save my soul/But down to the river, down to the river I’ll run/You take me to when I was young and I had done no wrong. There is mystery and excitement coursing through the song. Talena reveals: “I think, in the end, the song became about hope. And how hope is a wonderful thing, but can also be a little scary. It can be that extra push to get out of your comfort zone and do something scary.”