'XO SKELETON' is the supple, steady, uncanny new album by La Force: a mixture of haunted pop and hot-blooded R&B that glistens at the meeting point between life, death and love. “In dreams, the dead and living are the same,” Ariel Engle sings on 'october,' her voice shimmering. “Maybe that’s why I’m better in the dark.”
The finality of death? The protection that another person’s love can or cannot bestow? These are body questions, matters of breath and flesh and pulse, which is the stuff at the centre of all of La Force’s music—beginning on her 2018 debut and also outward, into Engle’s electrifying work with Broken Social Scene, Big Red Machine, Efrim Menuck, Safia Nolin, and AroarA, her duo with her husband, Andrew Whiteman. La Force’s voice is stunning—somehow luscious and also wise—but so is her point of view—steady, sensitive, physical.
Engle made the album at home, in the house where she grew up, where she got married, where her father died—a place that’s “both completely dead and completely alive,” she says: a structure at the threshold of her inner and outer worlds. Off and on for two whole years, Engle’s old friend, co-producer Warren Spicer (Plants and Animals), would work in her basement until lunch, allowing songs to unfold at heartbeat pace. She’s been “unhealthily obsessed” with death, she says, since she was a child, and XO SKELETON is a kind of reckoning: a coming-to-terms with the oblivion that bookends a life, but also the “gooey centre” of love, loss, touch, and memory.
These nine extraordinary songs are human-scale and intimate, with chord changes like the shifting of limbs. 'october', brings us right inside the protective cloak of kisses (or 'XO SKELETON') cast by love and memory; at the same time, it explores the spookiness of that space, the movement of invisible spirits, like a saxophone rippling through a hall of mirrors. Other tracks were informed by Engle’s participation in “Song A Day,” a COVID-era invitation-only songwriters’ circle, where La Force worked alongside musicians like Leslie Feist, Maggie Rogers, Beck, and Big Thief’s Buck Meek.
Throughout, 'XO SKELETON' is electric + vivid, and also tactile + grimy. It bends and turns with its every shift of pulse—35 mournful minutes; but also searching, turned on. Like a body, you might say. Or the memory of one.