There’s a nauseating physicality to every song on Wriggling, Abi Reimold’s forthcoming full-length debut: it’s a knot in your stomach, a pinched nerve, emotions caught in your throat. These are sensations that typically accompany great unrest or grand indecision — the album artwork features a can of worms, and you can practically see them writhing, tangling themselves into a knotted ball as they try to escape the situation they’ve been placed in. “The brain kind of looks like a bunch of worms,” she explained the record’s title and artwork to me a few weeks ago. “I thought about how it looks like your brain wrestling around new things and feelings… opening a can of worms and dealing with the aftermath of them crawling around.”
It’s an apt picture for the experience of listening to the Philadelphia musician’s new record, which is equal parts slime and grit. It builds on the strength of her 2014 Forget EP, Reimold’s first cohesive release after a solid string of songs put out over the past few years. On the opening track, “morning,” she establishes herself with a deep-throated growl: “Blood filling my shoes/ Everything I’ll lose, by letting you into my mind.” That kind of vivid imagery only gets stronger on Wriggling, which deals in loneliness and parasitic relationships and depression with a stony and poetic resilience. (“Sanity and safety are not the same,” she sings on another EP track.)
Her debut album was written during the winter of 2014, and recorded over the last year with Mumblr’s Scott Stitzer and Nick Barnes at their Stolen Studios in Philly. (Many of that band’s members also play on the record.) That extended creation process reflects some apprehension on Reimold’s part: “It’s taken so long to [put out] because I’m like, should anyone even hear this? It’s kind of a fucked up record. And it’s really sad,” she said. “On one hand, maybe somebody that feels the same way will listen to it and relate. But on the other hand, a person could listen to it and be like, ‘I’m justified in feeling sad,’ and I don’t want people to be sad. I want people to be happy. Life is awesome — there’s so many good things.”
And while Wriggling does get dark, it never feels dour. Some of the songs sound almost celebratory, like they’re embracing the messy parts before ultimately overcoming them. “I don’t know how accurate of a diagnosis it is, but [after] that winter I wrote all of those songs, I was diagnosed as bipolar,” she explained. “I know that in a lot of my songs, I personify mania as an abusive relationship, one that’s so much fun to hang out with but that takes too much from you.” That idea of taking too much manifests itself time and time again on the record: “I can’t be from what you feed,” she sings on one of them. “Little bumps that grow on skin and don’t let other people in,” on another. “I’ll wash them off with astringent/ I’ll eat the words I never meant.”
“Sugar” in particular handles that push-and-pull well. “Outside it looks like I’ve gained more control,” she sings. “But I am secretly wishing for you to come home.” Her lyrics blur the lines between whether she’s talking about a relationship between two people, or herself and her mind; it’s never really clear which she’s confronting, and at times it seems like it could be both. Another thing the song does so well — and a structure that Reimold favors and pulls off beautifully every time — is the gradual build to a crashing crescendo. A dusty and sagging beginning gives way to combustible, searing noise: “Wanna find you again, but I have no remorse/ Wanna feel you again, but there is no recourse.” The sort of sonic release at the end of the track is one of my favorite feelings in the world.
At least in my mind, Wriggling occupies some kind of warmer middle ground between two of my favorite albums of recent vintage: Mitski’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek and Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness. Outside of some stray moments, none of these three records particularly sound like each other, but all seem to have taken in their influences from similar rock, country, and folk touchstones, and they all approach music from complementary angles. There’s an interplay between restraint and dramatic fireworks, lyrics that beg to be unraveled and embraced, and towering, singular voices around which everything revolves. That’s great company to be in, and Reimold is more than up to par.