Album Review: Painted Zeros — ‘When You Found Forever’
Posted: by The Editor
On her second full-length as Painted Zeros, Katie Lau presses the impact of the preceding five years into a stirring piece of art. Her first record, the chilling Floriography, was released quietly but felt like looking at a feral animal through glass: Lau’s furious guitar work never got so uncontrollable that it broke through, but it made the listener jump. Since 2015, Lau has gone through major life changes, and she documented her feelings in song as the years wore on. The result, When You Found Forever, picks up musically where its predecessor left off, showcasing Lau’s razor sharp wit, emotionally intelligent lyricism, and shattering guitar work.
When You Found Forever deals often and openly with Lau’s journey to sobriety. While she’s alluded to problem-drinking since a song on her debut EP, she’s never spelled it out as explicitly as on the rattling “Fuck My Life.” Openingby saying “What a waste, I was wasted / I was so bored with myself, ” Lau sounds clear-eyed. The track touches on how sometimes addiction is simply compulsion that grows out of trying to cope with sheer boredom, and while those in recovery never stop being addicts, there is an undertone of pride or victory to the track floating somewhere in that melody. Lau looks at her past behavior even more closely on “Glass Threads.” The song has a much calmer tone than “Fuck My Life,” but it’s just as introspective. Over a drum machine and a lone, rumbling guitar, Lau sings, “No one can be saved who will not save herself / I laugh at how I thought rock bottom was my lowest hell / when all along I’ve been the only one that I can blame.” She acknowledges her support system, but embraces that she had to kickstart the changes she made to her life. For an act whose music is so inherently personal, it is among the most moving songs in Lau’s catalog.
Lau has been interested in music since childhood, and it occupies every aspect of her adult life. When she isn’t writing or recording her own music, she’s helping other artists translate theirs to a live setting as a sound engineer. There has been, over the past few years, a swell in non-male musicians calling out the misogyny displayed by dismissive sound guys, and Lau has been using her music to fearlessly call out shitty behavior from men since the outstanding “JMZ.” The first single from Forever, “Commuter Rage,” unleashes on that behavior once again: it’s a balled fist of a song, and Lau sounds at her wits’ end with having to explain to men what they’re doing wrong as she rattles off lines like “Go read a fucking book / and don’t you fucking look at me / to teach you things that you are responsible / for learning on your own.” It’s an incredible, roiling song that touches on just how much working in a male-dominated space—like music scenes so often are—can make men think they’re gods while leaving everyone else feeling profoundly unheard.
When You Found Forever may not be the kind of record that gets bolstered by critics as a work of genius, but it has more sentiment and artful construction than much of the music released this year. For those who saw Floriography as a shooting star—a one-off piece of excellence—When You Found Forever reinforces Lau’s talent and proves that, while she may take her time, it is with intention rather than a lack of ideas.
Eric Bennett | @seethingcoast
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