The lyrics of Blood/Lines — the fourth album from gracefully gothic California singer-songwriter Emily Jane White — come crowded by devils and deaths, poisons and pine boxes. There are requests to be led to slaughter and messages left to linger over burial sites. On the cover, White is clad in black, with bangs that hang like light-canceling drapes across her forehead; she clutches sanguine lengths of yarn against a stark white background, a sorceress working as a puppeteer in a saga of mortality. The image is at least decidedly less fatalistic than an alternate shot, in which White stands among the strands, clutching a skull that gazes upward and toward her own head.
Indeed, on Blood/Lines, White seems to float among the darkness without succumbing to it. She wrestles with evil from start to finish: During the first line of opener “My Beloved,” she wonders how to expunge demons, a fruitless battle that ultimately drifts into name-calling and acquiescence. “Wake” is wrought of tragedies, with pistols pointed and betrayal and regret frozen in an uroboric deadlock. “Love has led me to this song/ as I lay here on the lawn,” White sings during the song’s closing quarter, her voice lifted by strings and punctuated by distant drums. “Now you’re gone.”
But these are survivor statements, rendered like vivid medieval vanitas paintings that present the living’s lens on the dead: Layering her voice above Nick Ott’s circular drums on late-album stunner “Holiday Song,” White offers eternal if retroactive support for the lost. She even adds humor, winking at unwed cat hoarders who’ve found their own way to cope. Named for White’s sister, “Keeley” evokes Julee Cruise singing in the Road House bar of Twin Peaks. She coos above thick synthesizers and spun-wire electric guitars. “The moon gazes on us with empty eyes,” she notes, “trailing the heel of our demise.”
White’s long worked this milieu, but there’s a new audacity to the arrangements here, pushing her toward the front of the darkened pack she borders. More than merely neo-folk or darkwave, Blood/Lines represents an unlikely and intriguing intersection of the haunted Marissa Nadler (who adds harmonies) and the stormy Zola Jesus, a recent antecedent for these string-and-electronics-abetted, doomed torch songs. In fact, Blood/Lines is good enough to put her in their company, her own reference point among the living.