When Victoria Park was 19, her parents relocated from her lifelong home of New Jersey to Wyoming while she was away at college. Having already written a song called “New Jersey,” she wrote a new song called “Wyoming,” about forces beyond her control: “Can’t I blame you for everything/Market crashes, mood swings?” Recording under the spoonerism Pictoria Vark, she spent the next few years assembling songs, recording around the country, and utilizing the talents of close friends and remote musicians. Along the way, she played bass for Squirrel Flower and ingratiated herself in a DIY community that includes like-minded rockers Riverby and Harmony Woods. For someone who admits she’s “scared of change” in “Demarest,” a highlight from her debut record The Parts I Dread, Park has been forced to experience a lot of it, and these eight songs are filled with uneasy emotions, even at their most easygoing.
The production on The Parts I Dread, from Park and Boston musician Gavin Caine, benefits from the lengthy writing and meticulous recording process: This album sounds as polished as anything from higher-profile contemporaries Soccer Mommy or Snail Mail. Even though no two people were in the same room while recording, Park and Caine manage to capture the energy of a live band in explosive moments like the sudden, distorted climax of “I Can’t Bike.” It’s not just the production: On “Wyoming,” a routine indie backbeat gradually slows down for a dreamy chorus. Even the more mundane passages of “Wyoming” include panned percussion and shiny synths, creeping into the mix as if mirroring Park’s anxiety. That attention to detail makes up for the occasional weaknesses in Park’s endearingly light vocals: When she can’t belt the way a slow-burner like “Out” requires, a last-second whirlwind of feedback picks up the slack.
Park’s lyrics mostly focus on small interactions and idle thoughts, the kind of introspection born of abject loneliness. In “Good For,” she writes about a friend’s betrayal and the kind of “bad kid” who “fail[s] upwards on the backs of good ones.” The most invigorating moments are the most ambitious, when Park’s attempts at self-reflection spiral into anxiety. On “Bloodline II,” she tries to understand her parents’ decision to move (“Been tired your whole life/It’s what drove you out west”) before admitting her fear of turning out like them. The penultimate track, “Demarest,” leaves the biggest impression. It’s a surprisingly dark, ambitious song about perseverance, with lyrics that allude to a suicide attempt and the fallout from a toxic relationship. And yet, Park refuses to let the pain consume her: “It’s not that I’m into punishment,” she insists. “There’s more to live for than I know yet.”