Bonnie Finken has titled her album Gauntlet. The term gauntlet dates to the medieval practice where a knight throwns down his gauntlet, or metal glove, as a challenge to combat. And make no mistake about it, Finken is all about being combative, both musically and lyrically.
Gauntlet opens with “Down Down,” an electronic pop song that brings vintage Eurythmics to mind. Finken doesn’t exactly have Annie (Eurythmics) Lennox’s soul-influenced singing style, but this song is distinctly drenched in powerful drama. This song, and others like it on the album, was produced by Matt Sepanic, who has worked with Stone Sour and Slipknot. It was recorded in the hills of Tennessee in 2017, however, it’s not at all what you might call ‘mountain music.’ Instead, it’s decidedly confrontational pop-rock. The track “Someday” is aimed at (presumably) an ex-lover. It includes the telling line, “Don’t pray for me/Go pray for you.” These may appear to be spiritual words on the surface, but they’re actually a bit of a kiss-off. She’s clearly finished with this person, whomever he/she is.
Another band conjured up by Finken’s songs is Evanescence. While that band’s singer’s style (Amy Lee) leans closer to metal music, it nevertheless also features a strong female voice. Interestingly, the chorus to “You Never Knew” includes what sounds like a children’s choir singing backup vocals. They can be heard to sing, “I need to be free.”
While the hatred emotion sounds to be expressed between the lines during many of these songs, Finken doesn’t come right out and say, ‘I hate you.’ That is until the album’s closing track, “Hate You Now.” The song’s vocal is built upon a mournful melody, which sounds a lot like dirges once popularized by The Smiths. With its moody, Robert Smith-like electric guitar part, the song also has The Cure elements running through it. It’s a sadly tragic way to conclude an already emotion-packed collection of songs.
With “On Our Way,” uses an analogy she knows all too well to help describe someone that has just a little too much power over her emotions. “You’re like a pop song drilled into my mind/You’re saying nothing but I hear you all the time.” Usually, pop songs stuck in our head are a good thing, unless they’re songs we especially hate, or an advertising slogan that attempts to haunt us until we purchase said product. However, this is an excellent way to describe memory. Why is it the stuff we most want to forget is also the stuff that keeps repeating in our minds? This is just how worry works, unfortunately.
In addition to “Someday,” which mentions prayer, Finken has also include a song titled “Holy Water.” Perhaps this is just for symbolism’s sake. Maybe it’s because she recorded these songs in the Bible belt, and few places are more Bible belt-y than the hills of Tennessee. Nonetheless, it makes you wonder why she’s singing these lyrics. She doesn’t come off particularly religious, though.
“Warning Signs” kicks off with what sounds like a dialogue from a movie. This then goes into a particularly clank-y groove. Once again, this lyric takes the form of an angry missive at someone who has done her wrong.
It’s a little difficult to precisely label the style of music Bonnie Finken creates, but it’s impossible to miss her emotive messages. Listening to this album will leave you feeling uneasy, which is most certainly intentional.