In 2016 Dre Babinski (aka Steady Holiday), coming off her Coachella debut, told Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls that one of the biggest obstacles she’d faced to date was herself; that “allowing [herself] to be vulnerable” had become her “biggest challenge.” Fast-forward four years to the release of her sophomore album Take the Corners Gently and any evidence of her past strife with finding space in her music to be vulnerable has evaporated entirely. Which makes sense considering just how much Babinski relied on herself to even will the album into existence during a pandemic and under quarantine — let alone record, promote and release it.
Often self-deprecating in her humor, Babinski is humble about the emotional heft it took to bring her second album into the world. In a Facebook post announcing the album’s release, she expresses a newfound love for “crafting the entire a’pizza pie,” as it were.
And what a pie it turned out to be. Take the Corners Gently is undoubtedly the most vulnerable Steady Holiday album to date — but it’s also a lush indie-pop record, a prism through which Babinski reimagines a spectrum of genres (from the oldies of her youth to early-00s indie-rock) as bouncy hooks and poignant ballads. And at its core the album threads all its intimacy and effervescent soundscapes through that simple sentiment that Babinski expressed in that interview in 2016: self-improvement.
It’s the moment of epiphany in album opener “White Walls,” a twinkling ballad that tumbles forward on a soft cascade of percussion. The realization that there’s a need for change, not just so we can grow, but to prove to ourselves that we can do it.
On “Sunny In The Making,” Babinski dives headfirst into the task — carried by the song’s bouncy, elastic pop medley and a back-beat that stomps along her velvet croons. Drawing a fine line between putting-on a happy facade or viewing the world through rose-colored glasses, and possessing an optimistic resilience to life’s obstacles, Babinski invites us to recognize that we’re all “sunny in the making.
While on “Tangerine,” haunting keys flourish alongside Babinski’s attempts to understand the transformation mental illness can have on someone, in as humorously abstract but tirelessly sincere a way as possible: citrus fruits.
But self-love is one thing; navigating other people’s love for you is an entirely different one problem altogether. “Repeat,” a dreamy, woozily enrapturing ballad that bends along the warm curves of distorted tones, is bathed in Babinski’s honeyed request to reaffirm this fragile idea of love; echoed as it is, like the accidental confessions of the heart.
“Love Me When I Go To Sleep,” the album’s outro, echoes this request as a gentle prayer before bed, placed in the hands of the person we trust the most fragile parts of ourselves with. Through the fear of the darkness, nightmares, the fear of tomorrow coming, the fear of tomorrow coming and tomorrow being worse — the doubts and anxieties pile up quick — and the simplest of hopes so often end up being the hardest to secure.
But we keep trying, keep searching. And Babinski’s own introspection eventually starts to turn outward to focus on the people around her. On “Living Life,” the album’s centerpiece anthem, Babinski finds wonder, charm and beauty within those people; a mother exasperated who can only laugh; a boy with a violin that reminds her of herself. Reveling in them sustains her and through that empathy, the mundane becomes magical. It explodes and bursts forth like the song’s finale, a shimmering affirmation that the meaning and love we’re seeking out isn’t so far out of reach.
Even in the midst of such profound disconnection, as in “Exactly What It Means,” a spacey, sad-stroll of a dirge in which Babinski peers into the life of a woman crushed and overlooked by the world around her. “Another body that’s still breathing but / Struggles with the need,” Babinski sings of this endlessly enduring woman, her voice straining against the heartache of the sight, but also with the realization that she’s familiar with the feeling herself.
And it’s as Babinski stares into this woman, pondering the disconnection between people that allows such senseless tragedy, that she receives another revelation: she understands her. “I know exactly what it means,” she sings, looking at the woman’s bandages she understands that the most recognizable and unifying parts of ourselves are our wounds. The song’s melancholy is transformed into a crescendo of hope; that even our disconnection creates opportunities for us to be connected to one another.
Take the Corners Gently is a simple request to do something profoundly difficult. Self-improvement, this journey towards loving yourself and those around you, it’s not a permanent state that once we reach we can remain in forever. But Babinski reminds us of the control we do have: we can choose how we react to it, how we drive, how fast we take the corners. And, perhaps, how much we decide to care about the people around us. It’s a hard, messy road, but Steady Holiday makes the earnest plea that the reward for such compassion vastly outweighs our fear: “Like when you’re living just to breathe and the beauty makes you weep.”
Words by Steven Ward