"I wanna try harder / To love myself like I would another," Molly Burch sings on her captivating new album, Romantic Images. It's a notion that lies at the very heart of the record, a guiding light to which Burch returns throughout the collection as she sheds the anxiety and insecurity of her twenties and embarks upon a bold new chapter marked by a radical embrace of herself and her womanhood.
"I wrote most of these songs in the months leading up to my 30th birthday," Burch explains, "so I was doing a lot of reflecting on growth and change. Sometimes it's only in hindsight that you can realize how far you've actually come."
Indeed, Romantic Images marks a distinct evolution for Burch, both emotionally and sonically. Recorded in Denver with Tennis' Alaina Moore and Pat Riley producing, the collection celebrates the timeless delights of a well-crafted pop song, flirting with Blondie, Madonna, and even Mariah Carey as it forges a joyful soundtrack to liberation and self-discovery. Burch deliberately worked with more women collaborators than ever before on the album, and the results are transcendent, reveling in the passion and the power of the divine feminine. Written with the live show in mind, the collection prioritizes ecstasy and escape, and it's easy to hear Burch's commitment to collective catharsis in her lifted, airy delivery, which manages to exude both thoughtful introspection and carefree abandon all at once. The shadow still lurks on the album, to be sure, but the light ultimately wins, as it always does when we're brave enough let it in, and the result is an intoxicating collection all about coming into our truest selves, an honest, uplifting testament to the comfort and strength that comes with learning to look in the mirror and love the face staring back.
"I've written quite a bit about anxiety and heartbreak in the past," Burch reflects, "but this record is more inspired by confidence and self-love. This is the most me I've ever sounded on an album."
Born and raised in southern California, Burch grew up infatuated with classic torch singers like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, which led her to study jazz vocal performance in college. After graduation, she settled down outside Austin, TX, where she recorded her breakout 2017 debut, Please Be Mine, over the course of a single day. The album prompted an avalanche of critical acclaim and landed on a slew of Best Of lists, with Pitchfork hailing its "smoky vocals" and "shimmering guitar riffs." A year later, she followed it up with the similarly well-received First Flower, which prompted GQ to proclaim that "Burch has the voice of an angel" and spurred NPR's World Café to add that "she's got the songwriting chops to back it up." Never one to settle for the obvious, Burch returned again in 2019 with a full-length holiday LP, The Molly Burch Christmas Album" which turned out to be far more consequential than she realized at the time and featured John Early and Kate Berlant on the Wham! classic "Last Christmas" along with heartland hits like "Hard Candy Christmas" and "Snowqueen of Texas" and more.
"My first two albums were very raw and live, but we approached the Christmas record in a new way, layering up each instrument one at a time," Burch explains. "I found myself singing very differently as a result, and I just felt so much more free and relaxed. I realized that was the energy I wanted to carry into my next record."
At the same time, Burch was honing her live show through a relentless tour schedule that saw her growing into the kind of performer she was always meant to be.
"Around 2018, I stopped playing guitar at my shows and started focusing just on singing," says Burch. "It was like I embraced this inner pop diva I've always had inside of me, which made everything so much more fun and natural."
Burch was just hitting her stride on tour with Tennis when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and while the run's cancellation felt like a heartbreaking setback at the time, the unexpected hiatus ultimately opened the door for her to collaborate in the studio with Moore and Riley. At the pair's invitation, Burch and her bandmates -- longtime partner/guitarist Dailey Toliver and drummer Thom Washburn -- drove straight through the night from Austin to Denver for the sessions, moving into Tennis' home for studio two weeks of recording in a quarantined bubble. The process marked Burch's first time enlisting outside producers, and she could sense a weight lifting off her shoulders the moment she put her trust in Moore and Riley, who collaborated with her on lyrics, ran the boards, and contributed instrumental performances.
"Working with Alaina and Pat felt like making an album with my best friends," says Burch. "Alaina and I are so aligned in our vocal inspirations that it was almost like we had our own little language. We both love pop music, too, so we'd sneak off and listen to Taylor Swift and Madonna. Cardi B's 'WAP' came out while we were making the record, and we used to blast
that in the studio, too."
When it came to mixing and mastering the material, Burch had a very specific vision in mind, and she put her faith in Gloria Kaba (Lauryn Hill, A Tribe Called Quest), Mikaelin "Blue" Bluespruce (Solange Knowles), and Heba Kadry (Bjork, Beach House) to truly understand where she was coming from with the music.
"It was really important to me to have women and gender nonconforming folks involved in every step of making this record," explains Burch. "In the past, I've dealt with lots of drama and 'male egos' in the studio, and in stark comparison, the whole production of Romantic Images was seamless from start to finish. Knowing I had such a stacked team was a gift, and it felt like a necessity considering this album is all about coming into your own as a woman."
Burch deliberately designed the record to mirror the emotional journey that went into creating it, sequencing the music to work its way from jittery indecision to poised certainty over the course of ten mesmerizing tracks. Exhilarating opener "Control" takes a leap of faith as it learns to make peace with letting go, while the airy "Games" reckons with comparison and competition, and the infectious "Heart Of Gold" grapples with wanting what you can't have. By the time the silky "New Beginning" rolls around, a change is in the air, and Burch begins settling into a newfound sureness that dominates the collection's second half. The hypnotic "Honeymoon Phase" soaks in the euphoria of infatuation; the addictive "Emotion" (a collaboration between Burch and her Captured Tracks labelmate Wild Nothing) celebrates a spectrum of emotions and uses them as fuel for creativity; and the dreamy "Easy" looks inward with patience and understanding.
"I wanted Side B to just overflow with positivity," Burch explains. "The songs are still super honest and emotionally charged, but there's a real confidence to them."
Ultimately, it's that confidence that defines the record: the confidence to embrace change, to be vulnerable, to celebrate womanhood in all its beauty and complexity. It's never easy to love yourself the way you would another, but with Romantic Images, Molly Burch is finally ready.