Artists A - F
Chloe Lawrence 'Voices I Don't Know' review
Having been given a sneak preview of a few tracks from Chloe Lawrence's new album via tracks posted on the internet (I Wrote The Earth and You Are For You), there was never really any fear of her new album not being a great follow up to the critically acclaimed debut 'Little Orphan Hands'. The real question was what would be the overall direction of the CD be and having produced this album so soon after her first would she be able to avoid the curse of the sophomore album*.
So here I was, brand new Chloe Lawrence CD freshly downloaded off of iTunes (which incidentally I hate so don't even get me started), I was a little bit surprised so I did a quick bit of research on our El Intercambio website and realized that I had reviewed her previous CD in September of 2012, that's less than six months. Hmmmmm I thought to myself.
Almost 20 years after Max Headroom quipped about the 'blipvert' we are now actually living in the 'blipvert' zeitgeist where technology has our lives moving so fast that we seem to be taking in material in a nano second. So against this backdrop it's easy to understand why someone so full of youth and brimming with ideas would find six months seemingly a lifetime to wait in-between albums, but it is in this type of environment where everybody else, (read Beyonce), is putting out a single or video every two minutes (and throughout the complete trimester of her pregnancy!!!!), now would seem to be the time to beat the speed of your own drum.
But as usual it was not long before my concerns were quashed by 'You Are For You'. Great songwriting, great playing, just a fantastic song. This was followed by 'You’d Know How I Feel’ which really got me into this new album's groove. Simply because it is so well written. One of the things I liked the most about 'Little Orphan Hands' was the quality of the songwriting and this song was so well written, with a sentiment so believable I settled down to enjoy the album.
Two great tracks to start off the album but there is no point to praise without honesty and I must admit that a few tracks in, I started to see some of the remnants of the curse begin to appear. When I first heard Chloe Lawrence I knew I was listening to someone special. What I had no idea of was exactly how special and it was only after listening to, falling in love with it and reviewing her debut album that I discovered (from sources that I cannot reveal for fear of their safety, Mark Fea), that she records all of these songs in one take, taking her singer songwriter brilliance to a whole new level. Having watched artists being punched in over and over again as far back as when recordings were done to Ampex 456 tape, and others pre record what they don't have the balls or talent to perform live, (Beyonce, Obama, Inauguration, lip-sync, yes you get the picture), I truly appreciate this level of talent. As my friend Craig once said, "I can sing, and I can play the guitar, but doing them at the same time is another matter", add to that recording the track in one take and you might be forgiven for having a Susan Boyle moment. And If you’ve ever heard Jay Z boasting about recording his raps in one take as if that makes him something special you will appreciate what Chloe does here. I feel like shouting, try that whilst playing a guitar mother farquhar!!
That said, for someone whose first album set such a high standard some of the tracks that would have been good on a first album now sounded average by comparison. And these tracks were shown up more by the tracks that stood out on this album such as 'I Fall For You' which showed both growth and maturity. Hence she was at least suffering from one aspect of the curse, having the impossible task of competing with yourself especially if you set a standard which raised the bar and changed the game.
As the writer and singer of perfect festival music 'Festival Love' is a very clever little tune, truly enjoyable, heartfelt and very on point but it was the one, two combination of 'I Fall For You' and 'Queen' which first had me on the ropes. Completely different in style yet both completely and utterly majestic particularly the funky folk stylings of 'Queen'. Just as I was recovering on the ropes I was uppercut with the absolute starkedbollocked brilliance of 'Voices I Don’t Know'. As a sucker for songs that are short sharp and succinct this song is absolutely fantastic being in essence shorter than most Hip Hop album skits. That said because it was so melodic and with the beautifully angelically laid vocal chorus I am now launching an official request for the extended disco remix. 37 seconds was fabulous so a minute 17 seconds would have been perfect.
Keeping me on the defensive, 'NkwagalaNakato', a great track that cleverly switches from a staple folk strum into a West African influenced rhythm in the chorus and then slipping back again so subtly it is hardly noticeable. A very beautiful, touching song. If you have ever spent time in the developing world working with or helping young people you could not help but have this song hold a special place in your heart.
'Gypsy Dream' again continues in the growth vein started by 'Little Orphan Hands' and when it comes to lyrics, particularly socially conscious and spiritually uplifting 'Politician' and 'Delilah' are the ticket, especially 'Delilah' which uses the voice of backing singers to great effect leading us into the beautiful melody of 'I Wrote The Earth'.
One of the best things about Chloe Lawrence and her ‘one take’ approach is that it allows people to see the perfection in imperfection. Her approach of allowing the audience to go on a journey with her as she learns and improves shows a better understanding of artistry than anybody addicted to perfection could ever understand.
Second to last is 'It’s Not For Me, It’s For You', a beautifully honest song which serves only to warm you up for the breathtakingly written, sung and performed 'Mind Off Of You'. If you listen to the actual performance of this last track and fully take in its feel you will find it absolutely mind blowing. Completely touching, this song fits right into the concept of a singer as an actor. Selling stories to us, the idea that you buy into the story via its portrayal and believe what is being sung, and trust me on this song I believe and I felt her pain making this the knockout punch I was waiting for. An incredible track and a perfect track with which to end the album.
To summarise let me say that the thing about Chloe Lawrence is that her music is absolutely captivating, so captivating that even the songs that didn’t grab me on the first listen were the exact same songs that grabbed me and held my attention the next time around. More importantly, even the songs that didn’t grab me as songs all had either sections, breakdowns, lyrics, melodies, something that I actually did like. Something that stopped me, captivated me and touched me regardless of if I liked the actual song or not. This is unusual, what I am telling you is that a song that I do not particularly like will have a section in it that I do, making it impossible for me to find a fully fledged criticism of anything on the album. (And quite frankly almost starting to piss me right off).
Chloe Lawrence has done something very few people can do on their sophomore efforts. She has built on what she did in her first album and improved on it providing both more of what her fans like and enough growth to help her to find new markets all the time remaining true to her roots and convictions. Effectively she has cracked the curse of the sophomore album (well almost), and turned it on its head. Especially in songs like 'Queen' and ‘I Fall For You' which are truly hypnotic and amazing, playing in your mind whilst staying in your heart.
I had made a promise this year to reduce the level of my reviews. Not a reflection on the quality of the artists but a reflection of people's inability or desire to read 'War and Peace' in order to find out what a CD sounds like. I Did try but the music and talent on display here just caused me to run away with myself. Oh well, New Year's resolutions were made to be broken. (Blipvert anyone).
* The curse of the sophomore album. Put simply many acts after making a brilliant and successful first album go on to produce a substandard second one. In my opinion this can be for many reasons. Firstly after so many years of anticipation and hunger the first album takes all the energy and love of music that they had stored up since their musical journey began and in effect all of this effort and passion go into the first offering which create a piece of work that would take 10 more years of frustration and hunger to replicate. The second reason is because after producing a fantastic 1st album you are now caught in a conundrum, do you make your second album exactly like the first to give your fans what they want or do you change the style of your second album to show your critics and the public that you have grown. Then you add the industry to this choice and you get the real problems because the label will usually pressure you to make an exact replica of your first album (inartistic as they are), and effectively killing the golden goose as it were. Often in the rush to capitalize on the previous success the label or sometimes that artist themselves, create a second album which consists mainly of tracks that were not good enough to make the first. Lastly particularly for song writers who write meaningful deep songs they produce a second album too quickly before they have given themselves enough time to have had sufficient life experience and changes to write about.