Kati Malison wrote What Stays about memories and forgetting, in three years when so much kept slipping away: her context, her priorities, her past. She left her Maryland home in summer 2020 headed west, crossing the continent to Oregon, where she reconnected with longtime friends Max Holbrook and Lewis Brown to form this new band, Doll Spirit Vessel. In a cabin they rented that winter in Chiloquin – with puppy Couscous – the trio together brought life to eleven songs Malison had carried with her all that way.
What Stays, their debut out this month on Disposable America (the home of Horse Jumper of Love, Oceanator, and many others), packs a punchy mix of alternative sheen, tasteful baroque pop, emo and grunge that feels like a totally fresh take on the jagged rock that unafraid stars like Mistki, Hop Along and Girlpool exploded in the last ten years. Malison’s vocal performances mark the highlights, turning from anthem to bitter soliloquy in a single song, twisting everywhere in between. But she describes the project as deeply collaborative at heart: her musicality is “mostly intuitive” and melodic, while Brown’s guitar brings critical texture and Holbrook’s bass brings the harmonic scaffolding that gives songs like “Small Mass” such stirring changes. Phrases come naturally to Malison, sharp drum and guitar patterns fitting together underneath like a mirror mosaic; careful moments in trippy timing, measures passing in odd numbers, and occasional odd time signatures make the trio’s craft even more outstanding (“Counting”). Plus, the parts are engineered brilliantly and balanced to perfection – on “crowd-sourced cables and instruments,” rounded out by cheap gear rentals and a few “choice” purchases advised by Bradford Krieger (of Big Nice Studio in Rhode Island) and Heather Jones (of So Big Auditory in Philly). These three didn’t need a renowned studio to record a brilliant, brilliant album.