By Max Freedman
Indigo de Souza writes about thrilling moments of personal revelation as though finally cementing a long-fomenting, highly specific feeling is the ultimate emotional release. When she sings, “Now that everyone’s gone, I can tell you the truth / I don’t love you, I like you!” on 2018’s “Take Off Ur Pants,” she yelps it with so much ecstasy and liberation you can visualize triple exclamation marks. A standout instance of unburdening and excitement on Any Shape You Take, the follow-up to her anthemic yet spare debut I Love My Mom, is of a kindred spirit. “I’d rather die / Than see you cry!” de Souza exclaims on “Die/Cry,” on which jokes and epiphanies collide atop a semi-staccato power-chord run with giant indie-meets-pop-punk energy. It makes sense: de Souza tells MTV News that I Love My Mom and Any Shape You Take come from “the same season.”
No, she doesn’t mean the same summer or winter. Unsurprisingly, given the highly considered word choices that define her lyrics, de Souza means that both albums recap kindred life experiences. “I was going through a similar thing [while writing them],” she says, “and it feels like they’re connected in that way.” As we speak, she never quite details what she went through, and thanks to her music, she doesn’t need to. Her songs cast seemingly unusual emotions — like ecstasy about dying before someone you love or post-nightmare reckonings with your mental health, the kind that anyone could theoretically face daily but actually happen just occasionally — as dumbfoundingly obvious thoughts through wry, clever lyrics that she aptly describes as “harsh in a playful way.”
On lead single “Kill Me,” de Souza explores the squalls of mental disorder over lightly grungy, deeply melodic guitars, but what stands out more than her insurmountable depression is that the repeated requests to kill her sound like flustered tweets. The “Die/Cry” lyric comes after the biting but humorous line, “I’m nothing like the girl you loved / I haven’t seen her in months,” a meme-like barb directed only inward. Any Shape You Take is a carousel of lyrics this sharp and incisive, but de Souza says that’s not fully by design.
“When I write the songs, I black out and just write. It’s like one swift feeling,” she says. “I’m not analyzing it as I’m doing it.” She finds her songs “special” because “they’re timestamped for [the] moments of learning” that underlie the emotional heights of her songwriting. These climaxes aren’t always intentional either: Sometimes, de Souza finds herself “able to look back on the songs and see where I was at that time, what I was feeling, and what it means,” and at other times, “it continues to be a mystery.”
It’s refreshing how often de Souza is willing to admit she just doesn’t have the answers. As we talk, I notice that “I don’t know” is among the most common ways she first responds to questions, and occasionally, she really doesn’t know. But more often than not, she talks her way to an insightful, coherent answer, and it’s like watching her songwriting process unfurl in real time. When I ask her why humor, sex, and violence sometimes coexist in her lyrics — take “Fuck me ‘til my brains start dripping / Down to the second floor in our home” from “Kill Me,” and “I wanna kick, wanna scream” from three-part indie-rock symphony “Real Pain” — she mulls it over before turning up this nugget of introspective wisdom: “I think that’s all… [a] nihilistic sense of humor that makes me feel like I’m able to process my existential doom on a day-to-day basis.” By simply writing about where her head’s at, she comes out with unforgettable one-liners equal parts laughable and disturbingly relatable.
Just as de Souza’s lyrics are products of unfiltered release, the accompanying sound is simply what comes out of her. “A lot of the stuff I do [musically] feels like it just came from my brain,” she says, noting that the dynamic shifts that often define her song structures mimic “how my thoughts move. … I feel as if I jump around emotionally and in my thoughts, and so to create that kind of world musically feels like a nod to that.” At the same time, she admits being transformed by the “crunchier, dirtier, and more decrepit” sounds of Elliott Smith, Sparklehorse, Bill Callahan, and Sun Kil Moon — all of whom an ex showed her when she moved to Asheville, North Carolina, from nearby Spruce Pine at age 16. Her current listening list, though, sounds nothing like these artists or her own music. It starts with glitch-pop savant Tirzah, moves through late art-pop master Arthur Russell, and ends with the droll dissonance of cult U.K. band Happyness.
Listening to Any Shape You Take, it’s clear that de Souza pulls from all kinds of threads. While clearly rooted in the same guitar work as I Love My Mom, Shape (which she co-produced with Bon Iver collaborator Brad Cook as well as Alex Farrar and Adam McDaniel) finds her successfully testing a much broader palette. “Hold U” is de Souza’s grooviest song to date, with a handclap-dominated second chorus that wouldn’t feel out of place in a track by Sylvan Esso, whose Chapel Hill, North Carolina, studio Betty’s is where de Souza recorded most of Shape. “Pretty Pictures,” a gutting, midtempo bit of introspection, mostly forgoes distortion, yet its devastatingly mature reflections on loving someone but knowing you’re better apart ring as loudly as the album’s overdriven moments. Its auditory clarity finds an opposite during the second part of “Real Pain” as the song transforms into an overwhelming collage of friends’ shouted voice memos. When this section suddenly transitions back into a riot of power chords, it’s like an invigorating jump scare.
“I love really quick transitions that are very strong,” de Souza says. “[‘Real Pain’] especially, I love coming out of the very dark chaotic screams into a kind of happy, joyous but also dark lyric.” That line is a great example of how she gets “kind of spicy” when she writes. “It’s an exciting thing to be able to say whatever you want,” she explains, “and I get in this place where I want to embody something playful and dark because my sense of the world is so existentially heavy. It feels fun to express that part of myself in hopes that other people who hear it will find some comfort and release.”
Her live concerts suggest her listeners are doing exactly that. Recently, she told Stereogum that a pivotal moment for her was the crowd shouting along to all her songs at a Raleigh house show, and she tells MTV News that when she toured with Alex G in 2019, the audience was just as rapt. “It happens every time now,” she says. “It’s like the sweetest thing ever, and also spooky.” It’s a quote that could also describe her music, and like her best work, it just comes right out of her. No overthinking — just honesty.