Over the course of her career, Molly Burch has inched closer and closer to a fully realized version of herself, getting more comfortable with her voice, her look, her performance style. Mirroring the way we grow into ourselves in life, each Burch record offers a glimpse into who she is at that moment, and never before has she seemed so at ease as on Romantic Images. There was a sometime heaviness to her earlier music, but here she is light as a feather, nimble with her vocal choices and playful with her arrangements. Written over the course of 2020 as she approached her 30th birthday, and recorded and produced with Tennis’ Alaina Moore and Pat Riley, Romantic Images is a full-scale dream-pop ode to self-love.
Burch has been toeing the line of sultry R&B and contemporary pop with her wiggly vocal runs for some time, in 2018 covering Ariana Grande tunes at her live shows (and later, recorded) and giving shades of Mariah Carey in her highest register. She spends much of Romantic Images in this place, breathy and soft — her sweet spot — as she sings about overcoming self-doubt, accepting herself for who she is, and learning the virtues of some true “R&R.” The album’s closing track, “Back in Time,” feels like its opus, as Burch reconciles in her woozy tone: “Stay at home like it’s medicine / Remember to breathe out and in / I want to be careful and kind / Find out how to balance that line.” It’s a far cry from pulsating album openers “Control” and “Games” in which she grapples with past bad habits, trying to outgrow them and let go of shit. On “Heart of Gold” she’s hung up on a past lover, trying desperately to move past it, and on the album’s title track she begs for acceptance, her brain foggy with cinematic notions of idealistic love.
But then the album bifurcates, and the breezier back half doses us with the kind of endorphins that can only come from empowerment and self-assuredness, like the aforementioned “Back in Time.” “Took a Minute” is the rewarding conclusion to a messy quest for a healthy kind of love. It could just as easily be a song Burch sings to herself as to a lover. Standout “Honeymoon Phase” rinses regret with candied nostalgia, turning it into a technicolor guitar groove that finds Burch seeing the beauty in all the experiences that have shaped her, rather than feeling broken by them. “I want to endlessly reach for the honeymoon phase / I love that feeling / It’s like a drug,” she sings airily. “Emotion,” a collaboration with Wild Nothing, sets starry-eyed romance to a low-key club beat, and highlight “Easy” is a shimmering reminder to be gentle with ourselves, showcasing one of Burch’s strongest vocal performances of the record. Romantic Images is Burch arriving to herself, patient and ready for whatever she wants next.