If we write to find out what we think, then Indigo De Souza writes songs to find out how she feels. The Asheville rock singer/songwriter’s sound is marked, more than anything, by an honesty and intensity of emotion that is genuinely difficult to fathom, and that’s especially true on her remarkable new record, Any Shape You Take. It’s human nature to shy away from pain, like how we reflexively flinch and throw up our arms when we perceive we’re about to get hit. But De Souza does the opposite on this album, leaning into every emotional haymaker—bleeding just to know she’s alive.
Though we millennials are quick to joke about it, death has long been thought of as the taboo topic. It’s the ultimate thing we fear, the unknowable, absolute darkness at the end of everything. It’s also the first thing De Souza invokes on her 2018 full-length debut I Love My Mom, singing, “This is probably how I get myself killed,” over gently distorted guitar chords. We’re left to wonder what “this” is, but there’s no wrong answer—no one gets out of here alive. De Souza and death remain well-acquainted on her sophomore album, most explicitly on “Darker Than Death,” “Die/Cry” and exquisite closer “Kill Me.” But Any Shape You Take finds her more concerned with life’s journey than its final destination—the changes we all have to face, the many distinct selves we cycle through, and the love and acceptance with the power to bind them all together.
What is pain if not the gears of change grinding? You can’t have one without the other, a fact of life De Souza unpacks on stunning album centerpiece “Real Pain.” As on most of Any Shape You Take’s 10 tracks, the title lyric is among its first, as if De Souza refuses to hold back her truth any longer than she must: “When pain is real, you cannot run,” she sings softly over steady guitar strums, before hammered toms, sparing synths and distorted riffs carry her to the spectrum’s other end: “When love is real, you cannot sit.” Along the way, she acknowledges that true connection can persevere through pain—“Love might go, but is not gone / I still know you, I still know you”—but the song’s true purpose is to show that suffering can create that connection.
De Souza downshifts halfway through, leaving a lone kick drum, guitar noise and her layered vocals, which themselves gradually fade into the background as they’re inundated with fan-submitted screams, recordings of which De Souza solicited during the pandemic. Evoking the climax of Phoebe Bridgers’ “I Know the End,” the sequence is cathartic on a primal level, a space for shared anguish held forever on wax. That De Souza brings the track home in effortlessly tuneful fashion after that is almost beside the point.
Given all the heavy ideas and emotions on Any Shape You Take, it’s a minor miracle how bright and immediate it all sounds, without a whiff of self-seriousness or schmaltz. It would stretch the truth to say the album’s style is as mutable as its title—this is an indie-rock record through and through, whatever that descriptor is good for. But De Souza, in her full-length production debut, makes far more of her sound this time around, taking I Love My Mom’s dynamic, spirited rock and refracting it, like sunlight through mist creating a rainbow.
On tracks like “Bad Dream,” that manifests as peaks of towering guitar fuzz and valleys of isolation and sadness, all culminating in De Souza’s painfully plaintive entreaty, “Please send help to me / Please send help to me God.” “Die/Cry” begins as straightforward, somewhat slight jangle-rock, but grows more forceful as it progresses, reinforcing De Souza’s passionate declarations as they themselves increase in urgency, with “I’d rather die than see you cry” becoming “I wanna die before you die”—De Souza is always grappling with the weight of existence versus the joy of love, and this track is a particularly memorable collision of the two. “Late Night Crawlers” has a similarly dynamic trajectory, building from a restrained intro that evokes De Souza’s singer/songwriter past to a blissful full-band crescendo.
De Souza is not only doing more with rock sounds on this record, but also opening herself up to pop more than ever before. Bold opener “17” pitches her autotuned vocals way up over electric organ, starting off Any Shape You Take by denying us the artist’s actual voice, a la Frank Ocean’s “Nikes.” “Pretty Pictures” is a mellow, drum machine-driven track that’s just a splash of twang short of Sheryl Crow, with De Souza reluctantly letting go of a love that just doesn’t add up: “It’s not what I wanted, but it’s what’s true to me,” she sings sagely, upholding her emotional truth above all else. And on the palpably sweet “Hold U,” De Souza flies her pop flag highest, cooing over a carousel of electronic and live drums, organ chords and HAIM-like guitars, “You are a good thing, I’ve noticed, I’ve seen it / And I want the best things for you.” Just as sublime as De Souza’s unconditional lyric embrace are her vocalizations over the riffage in the bridge—they sound like a heart leaping.
Unlike on I Love My Mom, which led with its knockout blows, Any Shape You Take saves its most resonant tracks for last. We’ve written previously about “Kill Me,” an irresistible ode to fucked-up love that’s “at turns harrowing, funny, horny, relatable, or all of the above at once.” De Souza refuses to delineate between pleasure and pain, inviting both in as she commands, “Fuck me till my brains start dripping / Down to the second floor in our home,” collapsing life and death themselves into the same visceral image. But if there’s a single song that sums up Any Shape You Take, it’s penultimate (and de facto title) track “Way Out,” on which the shape De Souza herself is taking becomes clear. “If you want to change / I’ll be here to love you / No matter what shape you might take / I’ll love you anyway,” she sings, the “you” so beautifully undefined. “I wanna be a / I wanna be a light” is De Souza’s final refrain—she feels the burn and shines anyway.
Scott Russell is Paste’s music editor and he’ll come up with something clever later. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.