Kadri Voorand

In Duo With Mihkel Mälgand

An artist’s lyrics can affect how critics categorize their work. If lyrics are bubbly, critics might call it a pop song, but if the tale is depressing or gritty, then the track could get shuttled into a genre that has a stronger whiff of respectability, such as “adult alternative” or even “art song.” This dynamic comes to mind regarding the new album from Kadri Voorand, whose powerful pop music can be challenging—not only in terms of its arrangements, production techniques and shifting melodic lines but also because of its dark lyrics.

Her original tune “I’m Not In Love” opens with this couplet: “I’m in love with the roses you brought/ I’m not in love with you.” Her composition “What If I Did Kill You” expresses the protagonist’s intense feelings toward, perhaps, a lover. There’s also darkness in “Kättemaks,” the melody of which was written by Eeva Talsi with lyrics by Jaan Tätte. The song’s Estonian title means “Revenge,” and the lyrics, as translated by Mart Kalvet, seem to depict a lover’s explanation to an unfaithful partner. To exact some revenge for acts of serial infidelity, the protagonist recounts how she went down to the local tavern and “slept with everyone there.”

Voorand’s ambition and multifaceted artistry are on full display on In Duo With Mihkel Mälgand. She produced the album, composed most of its songs and contributed vocals, piano, kalimba, violin, glockenspiel and electronic effects. Mälgand, who had a hand in the production and some of the arrangements, plays acoustic and electric bass, cello, bass drum and percussion on the 12-song program. Voorand’s sonic palette includes wordless vocals, layered, multitracked singing and looped recordings of intakes of breath to craft a percussive element.

The most jazz-oriented tune is the original number “I Must Stop Eating Chocolate,” a two-minute track that initially seems banal and even a bit jokey. But the fourth verse moves into morose territory: “I’ll raise a glass of tears for you/ You’ve cooked my heart/ I’ll serve that, too.” Here, as she does elsewhere on the album, Voorand devises complex flavors by adding a bitter ingredient to cut the sweetness.