When Alexa Dirks started describing her latest album as Begonia, Powder Blue, she turns to vivid imagery: her baby blanket, the airiness of clouds on a summer day, chlorine-filled water in a hotel pool, circa-1970s Elvis Presley wearing an ill-fitting jumpsuit, her collection of faded denim jackets.
“Powder Blue is more of an emotion,” explains the Winnipeg, Canada, native. “The name of this album needed to be something that encompasses all of the feelings that these songs give me when they are put together. When I listen to them as a unit, they send me back to the words, the color.”
Fittingly, Powder Blue’s music feels timeless and classic, as well as eclectic. Trip-hop beats and propulsive grooves pulse throughout the album, shadowing Dirks’ stunning voice; she alternates between a dusky croon and an expressive, belting delivery. The album nods to vintage soul (“I’m Not Dying,” “Crying”) sunny R&B (“Bleeding Heart”) and soaring balladry (“Chasing Every Sunrise”). Yet the album is firmly in the realm of contemporary music: Standout “The Only One” is modern, keyboard-polished pop that features Dirks’ most powerful vocal performance on the album.
Begonia has exhibited such power since emerging into the Canadian music scene on the strength of her critically acclaimed 2017 EP Lady In Mind and her 2019 debut full-length album, Fear. The latter was nominated for a JUNO Award for Adult Alternative Album Of The Year and was longlisted for The Polaris Music Prize. Songs from the album were also heard in numerous productions on Netflix & Oprah Winfrey Network, and NPR named Begonia as one of 10 Artists You Need to Know.
Fear is a deeply personal album bursting with ruminations on solitude, self-doubt, anxiety, and panic, all bundled up in that serene feeling that comes with an artist fully embracing their past and present self. Although Powder Blue’s lyrics do mention specific situations—“NYE 2013” describes vivid heartbreak at a memorable party—the album wrestles with life’s thornier moments in more evocative ways.
“Crying” espouses embracing defiance in the face of harsh criticism and pigeonholing, while the narrator of “I’m Not Dying” has finally realized they’ll be okay after a breakup. On the flipside is “Married By Elvis,” where a couple embraces unconventionality, and “Chasing Every Sunrise,” which describes a tender and vulnerable (if imperfect) relationship.
With Powder Blue, Dirks is also trying to let go of needing concrete lyrical definition. “I still feel like I have to be like, ‘Let me explain to you exactly where I was coming from,’ even though I don’t always want to do that,” she says. “I don’t want to tell people how they should feel or what they should think when they listen to the music.”
Powder Blue emerged during a challenging time for Dirks, as she was navigating emotional ups and downs. “Some of it was written when I’m feeling lower than I ever have in my life,” she confesses. “And then some of it was written through all these different waves of taking care of myself—and then not taking care of myself.”
Despite the turmoil from which it emerged, Powder Blue represents Dirks feeling settled by coming to terms with her past and present. “The last record I wrote felt a bit more frantic,” she says. “And it’s so interesting that this was all written during the time of pandemic, amidst a sense of loss and longing, but it doesn’t feel as frantic to me. Even the name Powder Blue, it feels like a bit calmer even though there are still moments of release. There is a sense of calm in the unknown.”