Carla Patullo’s So She Howls is a lot of things. The nine songs comprising the album are neo-classical, ambient, and cinematic in scope. It’s really quite unclassifiable as one thing. It defies easy labels. Listening to these performances suggests that the creative outburst producing this material likely took a year to write, but a lifetime to live. There’s definitely the feeling of the sum total of her art coming to the fore with these compositions and that she’s invested much of her skill and personal experience into their creation. We’re better for it.
“If You Listen” opens this primarily instrumental work and serves a clear introductory purpose. Consider it a kind of instruction on how to approach So She Howls. Violin, cello, and viola are the album’s main traditional instruments augmenting the often-wordless vocals. For this opener, we’re treated to the work of violist Martha Mooke and her playing enlivens the song. She’s never omnipresent, however, and the interplay between her, Patuallo, and the vocal ensemble Tonality produces real sparks for the first track.
“So She Howls” generates the same sort of musical energy. Many of these compositions establish their initial orbit around layers of synthesizers and keyboards that Patullo employs differently from one song to the next. Added instrumentation over the top fleshes out the arrangements and, in this case, it’s cellist Leah Coloff adding her aggressive yet beautiful playing. Her self-identified “clunk” style, marrying a punk rock aesthetic with traditional classical inclinations, is an excellent fit for Patullo’s influences.
The lyrical swirl of orchestration defining “To Forest Scenes” embodies the stillness of a wilderness environment and the near-hushed ambiance of such surroundings. Keyboards and Lorenca Ponce’s classically trained violin are central to the song, but dynamics are what propels the track’s success. Patullo introduces a steady backbeat to “Machine Dreams” near its midway point. It fills this track with a sense of urgency that its counterparts lack and fuses nicely with the strong synthesizer lines running through the performance.
There’s a smattering of percussion heard during “We Remember” as well. It has a gossamer-like sound, nearly inaudible, but nevertheless shapes the performance. Dynamics are once again one of the composition’s prime attributes. Vocals and Lili Haydn’s violin hit a breathtaking pinnacle with the album’s second-to-last track “Earth”. Haydn, in particular, sounds like a violinist possessed and achieves a near-overwhelming fervor with her playing.
“And Love” closes the album with eye-popping beauty. It follows much of the same path taken by the preceding songs with one crucial difference above all others – the song’s lyrics. Presumably penned by Patullo, she proves to be as able of a lyricist as she is a music composer, and the track places an emphatic exclamation point on the collection’s conclusion. An accompanying video gives it an added personal touch.
So She Howls satisfies an immense psychological need for Carla Patullo – that much is clear. Even in its overwhelmingly instrumental form, Patullo’s release conveys the intensely personal journey she’s taken from grief, through healing, and into the new perspective that informs her life. We are fortunate to tag along for the voyage.