The band Desert Liminal, a trio, with 2 sitting inside a green car and one member sitting on top of the car
Desert Liminal Credit: Evan Jenkins

The lead single from Desert Liminal’s latest album bursts with a gut punch of a line: “I don’t need no southbound highway sign to tell me hell is real.” Glass Fate, the Chicago experimental pop band’s second full-length, overflows with similarly oblique and poetic imagery—lilac tides and blood moons and sunlit roads line a journey toward recovery and renewal. Over the course of nine tracks, singer Sarah Jane Quillin autopsies several strains of loss: the death of a parent, the end of a relationship doomed by deceit, the dissolution of her band Heavy Dreams. But instead of mirroring the heaviness of the subject matter, the tone of Glass Fate is celestial. Gossamer vocals, lulling synth loops, and reverberant violin bring a welcome lightness to Quillin’s meditations on dissociation and dashed hopes. On dreamy album opener “Watercolor,” Quillin’s alienation grows into desperation: “If you can swallow the madness / Be apart, a part of some / Wore your shoes to bed in case / The Christ would care to come.” And she nails an emotional heel turn at the record’s end with “Rainbow Sherbert Sky,” an empowering aria that scoffs at the fakery and performance of a past relationship. 

Desert Liminal’s releases prior to Glass Fate are delightfully nebulous; they tend to breeze through tracks and pay little mind to structure. The new album challenges that approach, and leading the charge is drummer Rob Logan, whose polyrhythms provide a backbone for the foggy 12-minute “Disco Spring” and whose jaunty tambourine adds mysticism to “New Tongue” (which also features one of Quillin’s most enthralling vocal performances). Since the 2018 EP Comb for Gold, Desert Liminal have expanded from a duo into a trio, and new member Mallory Lineham—who performs string-powered noise as Chelsea Bridge and has collaborated with Whitney and Ohmme—has bolstered the band’s sonic explorations with her warm, swirling violin and coiling tape loops. Album highlight “Fire Escape” tangles Quillin’s vocals in a thicket of popping snare drum and humming keyboard, but the song’s haunting refrain can still be parsed amid the frenzy: “Given the choice I’d fade this like a well-worn radio / Given the chance I chased you like a childhood untied dog.” By sculpting the liminal space between heartbreak and healing, Glass Fate becomes all the more compelling.

Desert Liminal, Orisun, Kiwicha, DJ Slinkie, Sat 12/4, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, $10, 21+