"I just want a little bit of your ecstasy," sings Charlene Kaye on the opening track of her second full-length album, Animal Love. Such electric, exultant energy courses through the 10-song disc, out May 1.
Born in Hawaii and raised in Hong Kong, Singapore and Arizona, Charlene's love of music started with classical piano training at age five. At 13, she began teaching herself punk songs on her mom's nylon guitar and was further influenced by her sister's love of classic rock bands such as Queen and Led Zeppelin. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in English, she moved to New York City to pursue a career in music. Things have been nonstop for the ambitious songwriter-performer ever since.
Her 2011 single "Dress and Tie"featuring longtime friend and Glee star Darren Crisswas featured in a promo for NBC's Chuck, was selected as official boarding music for Delta Airlines, and has amassed over 20,400 downloads on iTunes to date. Last November, she opened for internet sensation Team StarKid and played guitar in their backing band on a sold-out national tour. Charlene has shared a bill with Big Boi, Minus the Bear and Holly Miranda, and her music has been featured on mtvU, The Atlantic Magazine online and The Huffington Post. Last summer, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for Animal Love, setting a goal of $20,000. Enthusiastic fans netted her upwards of $33,000.
Produced and engineered by Brooklyn's Tomek Miernowski (The Pierces, The Madison Square Gardeners), Animal Love explodes from the first hook of opener "Animal Love I." "The song was inspired by that reckless, rapturous feeling of meeting someone who you think could be a very big deal, and what that sonic equivalent might be," Charlene says. The song is anthemic and catchy, starting out with a simple kick-snare beat and building with lush synthesizers and euphoric gang vocals chanting "Let your bones show, let your bones show / won't have to hide, have to hide anymore."
While her first record, 2008's Things I Will Need in the Past, primarily employed acoustic guitars, piano and strings in an avant-folk vein, Animal Love has greater emphasis on pop production, with drum samples, synthesizers and electric guitars populating the soundscape. Despite this new machinery, Charlene says that this album feels more raw and more human in ways the first one does not.
"With Things, I feel like my classical background compelled me to arrange everything precisely, right down to the vocal melodyI sang everything very cleanly and evenly, but I never 'let go.' With Animal Love, the process was much more intuitive, and I took risks I normally wouldn't have in the past," she says. "I did a lot of new things with my voicethere are some songs where I'm just screaming. I think ultimately, that feeling is what I wanted to capture the most on this record: complete catharsis, going from the sensible to the sublime."
Though the record has its playful moments (the Beyonc-inflected pop gem "Woman Up"), there is a drama and intensity that runs throughout. "Forever is a Long Time," a song about the inability to commit to a lover for eternity, features a tight disco groove, roiling guitars, and strings that soar with cinematic urgency. "Don't Make Me Believe" is perhaps the closest Charlene gets to arena rock, with a slamming wall of guitars and her voice hitting a show-stopping high note at the song's apex. "Animal Love II," the sister title track and album closer, is a cosmic, soul-infused number that explores the idea of romantic love as a physical entity. Charlene sings, backed by rich harmonies, "What am I gonna do with this love for you? Can't throw it out the window / Can't poison it out."
With the record clocking in at 37 minutes, one might expect the album to fly by, but its grand nature compels the listener to feel as if he or she has gone on a journey with her, to that place reaching the edge of the ecstatic and back.