Lizzie Powell has always been a risk-taker. As the creative force behind the influential Canadian outfit Land of Talk, the Montreal-based songwriter has over the past 15 years amassed a catalog of four unimpeachable albums that stretch the boundaries of indie rock. But Performances, their fifth LP, feels like a total reinvention: an unflinching statement from an artist who’s not afraid to say how they feel. Though it trades muscular guitar rock for understated piano, it’s still the most urgent, cathartic, and personal release of Powell’s career so far. “It’s the weirdest, mightiest little record I’ve made since I used to write music on my four-track when I was 14,” says Powell. “I needed to make a love letter to my teenage self by being more vulnerable and doing all the production myself.” Here, they doggedly value their own intuition over anything else to make their most rewarding album yet.
Work on Performances started in 2021 during a time that Powell refers to as a period of “identity confusion,” where they had trouble finding a place for the intimate, piano-based recordings they were making. ”I realized right away that I was not feeling electric guitar for this album,” says Powell. “At first, I felt like something was wrong with me: Land of Talk is about guitars and me rocking out. But is that all I am? Can I get away with doing a Land of Talk record without a ton of electric guitar?” Instead of pandering to arbitrary expectations and preconceived notions about their career so far, Powell decided to follow the muse and immerse themself into this new artistic lane. “I would write demos and think, ‘Oh, that doesn’t really kind of sound like Land of Talk,’” they say. “But then I realized that I’m Land of Talk.”
With the confidence to freely create what they want, Powell decamped to a rental in Sutton, Quebec owned by a dear friend to write and record. Lead single “Your Beautiful Self” was one of the first songs Powell brought to life. The track’s a slow burn with Powell’s voice starting the song at a lower register. It slowly builds with steady drums and a throbbing bassline until Powell sings, “Take a deep breath / Let it out / Show the love in.” As they sing that line, an electric guitar riff punctures the space in the song allowing for tangible catharsis to seep in. Powell credits another standout song they wrote during this time, the gentle beast “Marry It,” as being the lightbulb moment for the album. “When I wrote the song, I thought that it’s everything I’m trying to say,” they say. “It’s such a cryptic poem of a song but it’s actually me trying my best to explain everything. It’s almost my memoir: it’s really me.”
Many of the tracks Powell worked on were original ideas that have been percolating in their head for years: songs that they loved but never released or properly fleshed out. “Over the past few years in the music industry, being a musician is such a precarious situation and it had me thinking, “What if this is the last album I ever make?” they say. “I just wanted to honor all these ideas that have been living in my brain throughout my life. They deserve a place in my catalog.” The sprawling single and LP closer “Pwintiques” is a perfect example of this. One of several instrumentals on the album, it sparked as a piano riff Powell wrote as a university student almost two decades ago. When they brought it to the Montreal studio to record with engineer Rena Kozak and multi-instrumentalist Laurie Torres (Julia Jacklin), the initial minute-long riff turned into seven eventful minutes with multiple drum fills and a psychedelic jam that evokes Slint, Tortoise, and Sonic Youth.
While Performances is undoubtedly an ambitious leap and marked shift in focus for Land of Talk, to Powell, it’s a return to their roots. “My ears are always drawn to things that aren’t perfectly polished,” says Powell. “I came up as like a strapping lo-fi experimental recording artist. How can I get that feeling back and why not now? I may not pull it off perfectly, but I owe it to myself to play the music that’s in my head.” Though Powell cites everything from rapper Nappy Nina, producers Sounwave and Pi’erre Bourne, as well as The Banshees of Inisherin as indirect inspirations of the LP, the single “Sitcom” takes cues from
Christopher Cross and the Family Ties intro. Over hazy synths, they sing, “Just something I’m feeling / I’ll never figure it out Just a touch, a feeling / I’ll never figure it out.”
Performances is a defiant and resonant blow against expectations and outside pressure. It’s an LP showcasing an artist without constraints and allowing themself to be radically honest. “The album title is very literal,” says Powell. “I’m performing what’s in my brain but I’m tired of performing femininity for the music industry, femininity in my life, respectability, and vulnerability. I’m trying to grow out of these and break out of these roles in my life.” Powell’s fearlessness as a songwriter has already led to Land of Talk boasting an unmistakably essential discography but with this album, they find the perfect opportunity to give themself the grace to truly double down on their own vital sensibilities. They usher the songs every step of the way from demoing to producing, imbuing each track with immense care and unfiltered feeling.
“This is me reclaiming Land of Talk as it always has been,” says Powell. “Every record we’ve made has just been one step closer to me figuring out how I want to make a record myself. I might not ever make an album like this again, but I just felt like I owed it to myself to try.”
Land of Talk, Performances (TRACK BY TRACK)
1. Intro (high bright high)
I was inspired by Beverly Glenn Copeland’s Keyboard Fantasies here. I gave myself permission to play around with effects. I don’t really do that when I’m writing on guitar. I caught an idea and just decided to live in experimenting with the idea. My writing sessions rarely create a linear pop song. Usually, it’s just me jamming and improvising. I wanted to capture some dreaminess.
2. Your Beautiful Self
This was one of the earliest songs I wrote for the record and it came out of the session I did at my friend’s house I rented in Sutton, Quebec. There’s a little bit of Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Under the Killing Moon” in here. We kept reworking the song in different studios and different contexts but it really clicked when I swapped out guitar for piano. Taking things out and allow myself to be spare made it work. I wanted to be anti-virtuosic here. Also, my voice goes up the octave on this song in a really fun way. It was a weird and fun personal challenge to get my voice to start out that low.
3. Fluorescent Blood
That was one that I never thought would see the light of day. I never developed it more than the barest bones of just vocals and a little keyboard part that I’d been playing around with for years, even pre-Life After Youth. The song kept falling through the cracks in the band context but it stuck with me. I found an old file of it so I just kept adding to it. It’s a vibe. It’s just like a kaleidoscope of nostalgia. To me, it’s a symbol to keep committing to your ideas even if it doesn’t initially work.
4. Marry It
I listened back to the album recently and I cried, really cried, when this song came on. It’s alive and it really moves me. I love it the more I listen to it. I feel like I can rely on it and it’s this solid gentle beast of a song. There are only a few songs like that in my career that hit the same way for me: “It’s Okay,” “Some
Are Lakes,” “A Series of Small Flames.” Those songs I feel like I hit it in a really devastatingly personal way. These are healing songs.
5. Rainbow Protection
I love the Pi’erre Bourne-inspired production on it with the syncopated programmed drums. We also had Laurie Torres play drums on that one. We really nailed the rhythm section on it. It’s funny because initially I wrote it trying to sound like Joni Mitchell and it really became its own thing. I’ve let myself be a little bit more experimental and given myself permission to do unexpected things like writing what I call “an anti-chorus” where it’s not really a chorus. Lyrically, I find this song to be so vulnerable too.
6. Clarinet dance jam
A lot of the instrumental tracks on this album all come from under the same umbrella of ideas that I couldn’t quite make work but I couldn’t shake. I couldn’t artificially make them into a song for radio so I just decided to let them live as these transitory interludes. To me, they all feel like they’re the perfect vessels for going from one song to the next. It’s about the journey with songs like these.
A lot of my love of music is just from long car rides with my dad listening to Christopher Cross, Fine Young Cannibals, and Whitney Houston. He’s not a musician but I just feel like there’s a lot of I do a lot of almost having a conversation with my dad through a lot of my records. Recently, I got into a really big Christopher Cross phase. I got really obsessed with his self-titled record that won all the Grammys. On this song, I thought I could try to write like that. I was also watching a lot of Family Ties and older sitcoms. The key parts kind of evoked that classic TV intro from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Here, I’m just unabashedly myself. I took some vocal risks here and I’m so excited to play it live.
I’ll be honest: this song is probably never going to be played live. The arrangement is so wonky it’d be impossible. It’s a really difficult song to sing and it was such a challenge to write. There was so much fraught with the writing process: I recorded it during a heat wave with an out-of-tune keyboard. But I loved that about it and bringing it over the finish line was so rewarding. Also, I’d never written a string arrangement before so forcing myself to try that was really brave. I spent an inordinate amount of time on it. It was just one big experiment.
9. August 13
That was born from a little session of me on the back porch in Sutton, Quebec. It could have been sunrise or it could have been sunset of me just like being in the moment. My friend was so generous in letting me rent her spot for a month. My daily routine of waking up early to hash out these songs and just be alone in this space. These were quiet sessions of me playing and singing for singing’s sake and creating for creating’s sake.
I’m so excited that this is a single—a seven-minute instrumental jam. It originally started as a minute-long demo when I brought it to the studio. It was not a seven-minute track. Rena and Laurie really brought me out of my shell to expand it and make it a jam. I remember giving Laurie so many drum references like
Fugazi, Tortoise, and Trans Am, and she kept on nailing it. Rena cut and edited some of these jams and built them into an epic whole. She made it into a gargantuan event. The last three minutes feature me and Laurie playing drums together. I loved all these indie rock bands when I was younger so this felt like a return or at least a tip of the hat to my teenage self. You can get lost along the way sometimes so it was nice to go back to my roots.