Kelly Haigh’s work gives structure to freewheeling moments of cruelty and beauty. In her paintings, trees morph into smokestacks; pink dolphins stalk the desert on spider legs; dogs become surrogate mothers. Her songs have less of those specific images, but still enact battles of glamour and decay; the musical equivalent of Debbie Reynolds cascading down an MGM staircase with a nosebleed; tombstones poking up in the background of a soft-focus Dolly and Porter TV duet.
Post-Apocalyptic Valentines is Haigh’s second collection. It begins with a sort of mission statement, sweetly sung to a clip-clopping melody:
If I looked out the window and found / times were now post-apocalyptic / all I’d have to do is think about you / and the world will still be / just as beautiful as it was / as it ever will be.
For every romantic impulse you could infer from those concise lyrics, there’s a sadness immediately tempering it. Later on, a man asks a drowning woman “Don’t you think if we touched each other / it would feel like a parade of soft things happening?”
Haigh is a classicist not unlike Ben Nichols or Zooey Deschanel. She actively examines retro pleasures rather than neutrally reproducing them, lacing them with barbed images of the apocalypse. Covers of Porter & Dolly’s “Just Someone I Used to Know” and “I Love You So Much it Hurts” (sung by Patsy Cline, Ray Charles, and others), then, can afford to be faithful renditions; in the post-apocalyptic (or post-breakup or post-…) context, these covers are perhaps the bittersweetest valentines–remnants of all that’s gone and can’t come back.
Haigh’s straightforward song structures are the perfect vessels for her slipperily precise lyrics; and they make what melodic diversions there are, such as the Carolyn Mark guest spot and the low-blow coda to “Imaginary Love” all the more affecting.
The physical version of this album comes with a book of Haigh’s illustrations and paintings. I haven’t seen this book, but knowing her work, I have no doubt it’s a doozy.