Lala Lala’s ebullient new fourth album, I Want the Door to Open, feels like a musical antithesis of the isolation and insularity of the past 18 months. The project of Chicago songwriter Lillie West, Lala Lala rose to prominence with 2018’s The Lamb (Hardly Art), which was recorded live with a three-piece band. IWTDTO, by contrast, swarms with local collaborators—Nnamdï Ogbonnaya, Ohmme, Sen Morimoto, and Gia Margaret, to name just a few—so that it feels like a celebration of community, camaraderie, and world-building, awash in glossy bombast and existential urgency. The album is quixotic and oblique, with West speaking in chicken-scratch poems and quirky riddles—in comparison to its predecessors, it has fewer of West’s characteristic anecdotes, relying instead on lyrical oddities and universally potent themes.
Album opener “Lava” wades in a tide pool of blissed-out vocal loops and Morimoto’s wispy saxophone murmurs, easing you into a trance that West has constructed with producer Yoni Wolf (of the group Why?). Lead single “DIVER” retells the tedious fate of the mythical Sisyphus, doomed to push a boulder up a hill for eternity, only for it to roll down every time as it reaches the top. “I want to fall in love with the rock,” West proclaims, willing herself into contrived contentedness—a desire that resonates with a present day that’s equal parts exhausting and chaotic. “Plates,” a tenderhearted song about lost love, features the unmistakable falsetto of Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. Though West risked being eclipsed on her own song by inviting along an artist who’s arguably defined the indie-pop zeitgeist of this young century, the gamble pays off—her vocals not only contend with Gibbard’s, but she also coaxes some of the most evocative verses in recent memory out of him.
As suggested by its surreal cover artwork, which depicts a femme android standing on a lily pad, I Want the Door to Open addresses West’s fascination with digitized personas—the duality between our presented selves and shadow selves. “Color of the Pool” interrogates West’s questions regarding personhood directly: accompanied by warbly synthesizer and chipper PocketPiano, she yearns “to be the color of the pool I want to hold.” In 1955, psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham created the Johari window, a self-discovery tool that parses the psyche into four categories: Arena (known to the self and others), Blind (known to others but not the self), Facade (known to the self but not others), and Unknown (known to neither). I Want the Door to Open peers through this window, and whether it cringes at or revels in the view, it’s always unflinchingly truthful.