Cassette, Vinyl LP,
You’d never know Sarah La Puerta made Strange Paradise over the course of five years between Texas and New York by listening to it. Nor could you necessarily guess how it sounds by looking at her calligraphy drawings overflowing with tight loops of script draped over winged skulls and playing card motifs. The record is neither dense nor especially florid, and nothing about it indicates crossing great distances, sparing a single mention of St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Instead, Strange Paradise is remarkably steady and self-contained, adhering to ambling rhythms and cotton-soft melodies tapped out on an ever-present ’70s synth-organ hybrid—a Baldwin Fun Machine, for the gearheads. Still the record’s nostalgic softness doesn’t exist for its own sake. La Puerta, former member of “medieval country” outfit Tele Novella, uses that aesthetic to explore a lyrical sensibility that feels both oblique and intimate, and like Destroyer’s Dan Bejar before her, she draws surreal couplets that seem loaded with meaning, however unplaceable. Amidst the tiki lounge samba of “Everyone Knows” is “A bright star on a sunny day/ A young prophet with nothing to say, no thank you.” The vividness of her imagery is the star here, helped along by the restraint of her sonic palette.
La Puerta is inclined towards the philosophical and the literary. Album standout “Chocolate Cake” proffers a clever Edgar Allen Poe reference—“He was the pit and pendulum, baby/ Swinging back and forth between no and maybe”—within the breathy narrative of a disappointing and possibly abusive lover. It makes for an artful pose of feminine defeat, recognizable to anyone with a passing familiarity of Lana Del Rey.
Not unlike the Baldwin Fun Machine upon which it was built, Strange Paradise is something of a sonic curio; it rewards close contemplation. But it’s also beautiful in the background, just catching your eye each time you look up from across the room.