I’m just gonna say it right off the bat. The new album by Queen Kwong (aka Carré Kwong Callaway) under the title Couples Only (Sonic Ritual) is an instantly worthy entry into the pantheon of classic "divorce albums" seeing as how it takes elements from past divorce classics like the bittersweet melodicism of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, the sexy psychotherapy of Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, the heartbroken lyricism of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, and the harmony-laden fatalism of Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out The Lights and remakes them in Queen Kwong’s own image.
Because Couples Only doesn’t sound like any of those albums but it does take some of their broad contours and rearrange them into a modern sonic architecture like on the opening track “I Know Who You Are" which is a glitchy, twitchy, glam-damaged ride into the emotional heart of darkness that beats to a clattering, martial rhythm and a pulsating two-note bass groove overlaid with waves of fuzzed-out guitar and squealing feedback and withering dissses.
The next track “EMDR ATM” opens with hovering horror movie strings laying a tense foundation for layer after layer of sonic embellishment that builds to a crashing wave apex matched by lyrics that go from hushed epiphany (“you nearly had me convinced / that I am to blame for this shit”) to caustic taunt (“play your violin / say I’m a mean bitch”) to full-throated fury (“GIVE UP MY BABY AND THE HOMEWRECKER WON”) and it’s kinda like watching an A24-style situation-spinning-out-of-control movie unspooling in someone’s head.
But here’s the probably more relevant point of comparison when it comes to indie films and Queen Kwong’s album and that’s the quasi-"method acting" process undertaken to create Couples Only, quoting here from the press release:
"Couples Only was entirely improvised and recorded on the spot—nothing was pre-written lyrically or musically. For three weeks, Carré and longtime producer Joe Cardamone (The Icarus Line) crafted about one song a day, which would eventually be whittled down to the final 11 songs. A primal scream of freestyled lyrics that contain the anger, fury, frustration, and sadness that was dealt to her in a quick succession of events that started with a diagnosis of cystic fibrosis in 2018, the dissolution of her marriage two months later that left her exiled with nothing but a suitcase and two guitars. “I was homeless for nearly a year, just living on friends’ sofas, and I’m still in the process of rebuilding my life," she says, “but it’s reassuring that we can survive things that feel unsurvivable.”
So, first of all, WOW, it’s no wonder this album is so full of rage and remorse and gallows humor but don’t worry Carré seems to be doing quite well now and speaking of gallows humor, the next track is a Leonard Cohen-esque number called “Sad Man” that takes satirical aim at the kind of aging hipster who may be prone to lamenting “I’m too old for this shit / paying rent by selling guitars / and DJing shitty bars” with no bigger ambition than being "another sad man in a sad band.” (blog reader, know thyself!)
The next number, "Death in Reverse," is dare I say the most sultry track on the album, in the vein of early Porthishead perhaps, that fills in some of the backstory of the still in-love lovers ("nothing was planned , nothing rehearsed / with the lights off it was death in reverse") while copping to some co-dependency ("we were floating / I felt complete / your chemical imbalance / balancing me")…
…and from there, dear reader, I’ll leave the rest up to you to explore but not before mentioned a couple interesting twists-and-turns like the Twin Peaks Season Four featured (one hopes!) “On The Run” and the major-key dream-pop closer “Without You, Whatever” and not before filling you in on the album’s musical personnel with Queen Kwong "assembling a notable cadre of contributing musician friends including the Cure’s Roger O’Donnell, Swans’ Kristof Hahn (lap steel), and Blood Red Shoes’ Laura-Mary Carter (backing vocals) who appear on assorted tracks, Carré worked closely with friends and allies, including Joe Cardamone of The Icarus Line, and Tchad Blake (Arctic Monkeys, Elvis Costello, Fiona Apple), who mixed the record." (Jason Lee)