My first introduction to Columbus, OH singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless was "Clumps," the hypnotic, unadorned penultimate track off Real, her most recent and finest studio album to date. Struck by the slight quiver in her soaring melancholy and the depth of lyrics like “All at once you say it was fun / But it must not be real because now you're done / And so what if that's all it was / Love turns into lust, and milk turns into clumps,” Loveless swiftly went from an unknown to an obsession. I distinctly remember watching for the first time the song’s black-and-white, single-shot video, transfixed by Loveless perched at the back of a record store filled with patrons disinterested in her aching reflection of a love gone lonely. She doesn’t seem to notice them either, her gaze instead constantly fleeting, rolled eyes suddenly cast downward as sarcasm sinks for a split-second into despair before she just as quickly lifts herself out. You can feel the push-and-pull between the artist’s personal poetry and the need for an audience, recalling a fallen tree calling attention in an otherwise silent forest.

“Clumps” is an outcast amongst Real's tracks, but the record is all the better for it. While the song is a standout, the rest of the album is comprised of equally impressive songwriting dialed up to a sturdier pulse. There’s no reason to fixate on genre, because Loveless has always dipped her toes into so many different styles it would be reductive to distill her to any fixed descriptor. Sometimes her songs resemble twangy punk anthems a la Indestructible Machine’s “Do Right.” Other times, they take-on a fiddle-laden country strut, as on The Only Man’s “Let Me Leave.” On Real she’s as amorphous as ever, if not adding some new sounds into the mix with the record’s affinity for power-pop and Midwestern rock and roll. She's a disciple of Loretta Lynn and Lucinda Williams, but she’s gunning to be a contemporary of Ryan Adams, Neko Case, and Jenny Lewis.

Yet Loveless’ voice is all her own. She’s perfected the art of playing the sad-sack shit-kicker, but she’s unafraid to address her own faults in equal measure, doing so with a keen self-awareness of both the causes and the outcomes of her behavior. Her transparency is disarming – it’s one of the reasons she’s so immediately likable – yet she can also keep you at a distance with her failure to hold back. Romance is described in violent terms, Loveless unflinching in her sexual candor and inclination to start a fight. She’s self-destructive, but portrays it as a salve for apathy — and after listening to her music for long enough it becomes truly unclear which would be the worse fate.

Loveless is rarely interested in grand questions — she mostly dwells on past relationships or anesthetizes herself from doing so. Yet she frequently delivers on big answers, derived from the space between intimacy and intimidation, where her experiences reveal how easily the chase can accidentally turn into running away from whatever it is that you hoped your target could address. Her ability to translate authenticity into anthems is what makes her such a compelling figure, and one reason why her live shows are so highly regarded. She’s making a stop at The Independent at the end of the month for her upcoming tour, and if she hasn’t already, she’s sure to set up a permanent residence in your heart as well.

Lydia Loveless, Angelica Garcia, M. Lockwood Porter
The Independent
January 28, 2017
9 PM, $18 ADV/$20 DOOR (21+)