To the Hills
The E.P., To the Hills is available via:
The track, To the Hills is available at:
Cinematic grandeur and stirring compositions are rifely abound within the Southampton-born heroine’s debut E.P. With a voice that is compelling critics and fans alike, it will not be long before this young talent is synonymous to all- and taking the collective breath away.
RECENT movements and unveilings in music, have caused a bit of a stir…
in me. Over the last couple of months, I have been looking around the ‘mainstream’ market; checking all of the music reviews and previews- and trying to come across an album that has true potential. My optimism and adventurousness is short-lived and curtailed. It has been a while since the release of …Like Clockwork (by Queens of the Stone Age)- to my mind the last truly great album. The U.S. giants served up a tantalising and monstrous statement of intent with their sixth studio album; one which offered up nuance and spades of surprise. Having been a fan of Q.O.T.S.A., I was a bit ambivalent (with regards to a new album). Era Vulgaris (their fifth album), was, by their lofty standards a bit of a damp squib. Aside from choice cuts like Sick, Sick, Sick, Suture Up Your Future, Make It Wit Chu and Misfit Love, there was little to recommend. Their previous outing- Lullabies to Paralyze– provides heady Queens’ goodness, and was a natural progression, in terms of quality and range. Expectations were understandably high, but Era Vulgaris didn’t match them. Perhaps the band’s revolving-door-policy or tension had led to a qualitative fatigue, but something was amiss. Every band is entitled to a momentary step-back, yet even Q.O.T.S.A.’s ‘slip’ was still impressive, mind. When …Like Clockwork arrived, a sense of nervousness was elicited. What we were provided was, was (and is) a veritable nosegay of exotic and hypnotic sounds; anthems that pulverize and crepuscular crawlers that do their dirty work by nightfall. My God Is the Sun was a traditional Queens’ number; anyone familiar with Songs for the Deaf and Lullabies’ would have grinned like a fat Cheshire Cat. With Grohl on sticks duties, it is a rampant and unslakeable monster of a song that matches cool-as-f*** Homme vocals with lyrics of alacrity and relaxation: a man driving a desert road; without a care in his mind. It is the stand-out of the L.P. and an emphatic fingers-up to those dubious that the Californian clan had lost any of their punch. The band’s eye-catching nomenclature was all very much present and corrected, with numbers like Kalopsia and If I Had a Tail appearing on the docket. The former is a slow-burner (that, after a few listens, becomes your favourite track) which offers vivid lyrics and a particular moment that sends your back hairs into orbit (listen to it and you’ll hear when it occurs for sure). Smooth Sailing (with its wonderfully insane video) contains some of Homme’s most sexualized and witty lyrics; and boasts a tune and catchiness that is hard to defeat. With a title track (and swan song) that is amongst the most touching and truthful songs they have ever recorded, the album is a rightful masterpiece. Superseding expectations and ranking alongside their very finest (only Rated R tops it, to my mind), it is an L.P. that stays on your stereo for months and months (I am listening to it now); and is a creation that offers tremendously exciting future prospects. That album dropped back in June of last year. After that there was a bit of a gap; my mind wandered and nothing overly exciting was about, until London Grammar’s debut (If You Wait) was unveiled. Despite the fact that the album is being advertised and re-branded like a tattered feather bower, it is still an impressive work. I always wonder when an album (that is nine months old) is being promoted like it is brand-new; whether the band are running out of support or else are unable to provide anything new, yet If You Wait (upon its release) startled me. With Hannah Reid’s beguiling beauty and monumental voice scoring eleven stunning tracks, it is one of the finest albums of 2013. Reid herself marked her intentions as one of the best songwriters of the moment; tracks such as Wasting My Young Years and If You Wait (two of her sole compositions) display a maturity and well-educated set of lyrics; evocative and haunting compositons- and spectacular vocal performances. With her two male comrades, Reid’s Grammar lessons offered up spectral and multi-coloured delight; tender-hearted emotion and dollops of defiance. Although many have compared the act to Florence and the Machine, London Grammar come across as a more seductive version- with a very different set of ideologies and songs. The electronics and compositions had nods of Massive Attack, yet the way that the trio brand and convey their music came across as bracingly fresh and urgent. Another gem has been unearthed, and (to my ears) the last great album of 2013 had made its way to us. Fast-forward to a few weeks back, and Paolo Nutini’s third album, Caustic Love was released. It may be an over-exaggeration but nothing truly spectacular filled the void between London Grammar’s album (giving its title a strange irony), and Nutini’s latest. It is the best album of this year (so far) and one of the most immediate records I have heard in years. I have never been overly fond of the 27-year-old Scot, but one could not ignore Caustic Love. With raw passion and gravelled operatics, the L.P. is a cornucopia of sexual rambunctioiusness, sweat and sly smile; spiritual and religious examinations and tales of heartache and break-ups. Opener Scream (Funk My Life Up) sees Nutini screaming and wailing like a man possessed; exorcising an inner demon that is a slave to desire; one that has been summoned up by an intoxicating heroine. It is one of the best R&B tracks since the heydays of the ’70s; and is not even the best thing on the album. Iron Sky looks at religious organisations and their institutionalisation of their followers; the unsettling hold they have on the minds and freedoms of those whom worship- Nutini’s voice is up to the task. With one of the most deliriously overwhelming vocal turns of this year, our hero lacerated the track beyond belief. Whereas songs like Better Man highlight the young man’s lyrical talents; numbers like Cherry Blossom and One Day are synonymous with their catchy codas and strikingly beautiful vocal turns. In Caustic Sky we have witnessed what is likely to be the best album of this year; and for me, a revelation of sorts- I am now a bona fide Nutini lover. The point of my trio of truncated album reviews, is to show how infrequently and sporadically the ‘mainstream’ provides genuinely wonderful albums. When true musical immaculate conceptions are abound, then the eyes widen and the parotid glands salivate so- yet this occurs too rarely. With hundreds of acts plying their trade, one expects more than three or four ‘genius’ albums to arrive (in a year)- so what the hell is happening? I have been desperate to hear something that matches London Grammar’s torch songs and emotive swells; a parmour whom provides some of Nutini’s soul and earthquake-inducing tableau vivant– as well as Q.O.T.S.A.’s harder edges and razor-sharp swagger. When thinking about my featured artist (for today’s review), I am giving cause for hope and excitement. I shall introduce you to here very shortly, but shall wrap up my thesis with a small addendum. Many bands and acts of the moment, are releasing songs and albums that do what they are supposed to do- provide inspiration and lodge in your brain. I guess it may be my subjective and particular tastes that are enforcing my argument, because (debatably) there have been better albums released this year (than Caustic Love)- and many other wonderful equals. I feel, mind, that the realm of new musicianship is going to offer up the most fertile and prosperous future endeavours; from those I have reviewed I get the sense that we will be seeing a lot of diverse and wonderful acts come through very soon.
Before I investigate Laurel in greater depth, I am breaking a golden rule for her (Laurel Allen-Cullen). My howling execrating of the mainstream aside, I am always fascinating to discover a new musician; something genuinely different bold. Ordinarily, I need (as a bare-minimum) a fairly detailed biography; links to- or full-bodied- reviews; as well as enough information to get me started- and set the ‘wheels in motion’ as it were. With regards to these necessities, Laurel is a bit of an enigma- and someone I may otherwise have bypassed. Not only is the stunning Siren a captivating beauty, but someone whose music demands thorough investigation; songs that beg for consideration and appraisal. Having Google-d reviews of our heroine, and found some personal background (below), I been able to cobble together some heritage, although one suspects that there is a lot more being kept back. It would be great for Laurel to give us some insight into her background; what she has done these last few years, and how she has spent her time. As well as listing her influences, I would love to see some reviews listed, too- not so she can boast, but so the fan-in-waiting can see what others think of her, and bolster her reputation. Her online portfolio is varied and well-spread, but I hope she does give some thought into expanding her personal information, as I would hate to think that reviewers or music-lovers may be passing her by- fearing that our heroine had little to say. When you listen to her music, you realise that this young star has a hell of a lot to say; to shout about, and a weight that she needs to unburden from her mind. The largest proportion of my reviews (when dealing with U.K. talent) sees me travelling to Yorkshire or London; yet today I am pleased to hear of someone whom emanates closer to my neck of the woods- Southampton. Being Surrey-born, I am always looking for acts whom I am within ‘driving distance’ of’; or commutable at least. London is close to me, yet I always long for an excuse to get down to the coast; to head south and delve into the tender recesses and bustling cities of Hampshire. Few modern acts hail from Hampshire and the coastal regions of the south, so Laurel is a slight anomoly- and a vastly impressive one. Whilst Yorkshire seems to be the natural home of the best new music has to offer, one should not ignore other locales. London has a fair smattering of shining lights, yet if you look hard enough, you can find others (located elsewhere). I have reviewed a few Brighton-based acts (including House of Hats), and find that sonically they provide ample beauty. Not subjugated by the city smog and busy streets, the acts that hail from our southern coasts seem freer and less stiffled; their music is more open and inventive and imbued with a natural cheer and romance. Laurel is someone whom fits within this parable, and seamlessly promotes the virtues of her hometown- although she probably spends more time out of London these days. Before I get down to more detail, I was reading an interview she conducted with the girls are last year, where she laid out her plans for 2014, and how she has spent her last few years. In lieu of some official online biographical documentation, the snippet below helps you to gain a window into our heroine’s past- and present intents:
“When she was 17, UK singer-songwriter Laurel uploaded a demo on SoundCloud. The track, ‘Next Time’, sent music blogs into a frenzy and as a result, Laurel soon found herself signed to the same management as Ellie Goulding and Rita Ora. Still only 19 years old, when asked how she would describe her sound to someone who had never heard a Laurel song before, she doesn’t hesitate to affirm, “teenage angst”. It’s no surprise then to hear such trepidation and melancholy within her songs, feelings which have obviously helped to fuel a beautiful, orchestral style of self-produced pop music. Music has always been a big part of her life: “I always loved music from a really young age, I did a lot of classical training and performances with my school but I never enjoyed singing other peoples’ songs, so I thought I’d try creating my own.” But creative drive and a strong sense of her own artistic vision weren’t the only motivations for getting into music: “I also really fancied Lil’ Chris and at the time I thought the only way I’d be able to marry him is if I got famous too and was a cool rockstar like him (oh, I wish I was a child again!).”… So what inspires Laurel? “Films are a big influence… ones with great sound tracks like Rush, and Where the Wild Things Are. I love the film Place Beyond the Pines too. I love the dark atmosphere which I try and get across in my songs. I’m also influenced by magazine editorials – the words they use in Vogue are beautiful – a few of my songs like ‘To the Hills’ and ‘The Desert’ are concepts taken from pieces of writing.”… There’s certainly a dark, brooding atmosphere emanating from Laurel’s latest EP To the Hills which hits virtual shelves this month via her own imprint Next Time Records. So what can we expect from listening to the new release? “It’s a big mix of dark, dirty drums and lush orchestration, a lot of pianos and random sound effects. There are two songs that I wrote on there which are fairly new“.
Her single To the Hills has been online for a little while now, but has been gathering some incredible feedback and testimony. The track was inspired by the Raymond Carver short story; with its Ben Newbury-directed video garnering a lot of focus and adulation (it has a feel of a Lana Del Rey promo with its stunning scenery and vintage feel noir feel/thematic). The song has been viewed over 47,000 times, and it has resonated with a huge amount of people; each encapsulated and entranced by the track’s huge chorus and scintillating power. It is a song that forms the bedrock of Laurel’s To the Hills E.P.- a collection that has gathered mass acclaim and caused ecstatic whispers amongst music reviewers and critics. Here as just a selection of tributes that have been to Laurel- and her E.P.:
“Laurel’s mid-February Booth debut, Fire Breather, found the Southampton singer-songwriter head-over-heels for a man every bit as volatile as the titular element. On freshly-released follow-up To the Hills, romance is once again linked with destruction, but this time around she’s all too happy to fan the flames. Accompanied by her own production, a string-driven arrangement that slowly gathers steam over the record’s running time, she paints an apocalyptic, yet alluring lyrical picture of young love: “I feel the heat on my skin like demons. Cry with joy, ‘cause I know hell follows me. Out here in the garden of angels, / I felt what it’s like to be free.” Director Ben Newbury‘s cinematic visuals round out the package.”
“Since the first day I discovered Laurel’s music I have fell in love with her music. I’m loving this EP and can’t wait for more live shows and a full studio album.”
Mr Chuey, iTunes
“Soon, the time had come for Laurel to take to the stage. We’ve been following her every move since the release of her latest track Fire Breather and our first live experience was astounding. Laurel may only be young, but she has the most unique and mesmerising tone and quality to her voice – in fact, we kind of entered a trance like state during her set. As well as Fire Breather, she played soon to be released To the Hills and our ears swooned with delight – delicate, intricate and always laced with this sweet yet noir romance that cannot be forgotten.”
Bring The Noise
“No, what this prodigiously talented young lady is giving us here is a grand cinematic swathe of romanticism and drama. The stirring orchestral arrangement gives “To The Hills” a gorgeously sinister edge, a sumptuous intensity that feels like it could unleash a darkness within your soul. A darkness that lurks undetected until freed by a horrific, neck piercing act* and that then becomes all consuming. Her voice is soft but powerful with moments of brief and enticing fragility woven within, conveying a fleeting feeling of remorse perhaps; a remembrance of a humanity lost.”
“The five track EP has a dark tone but instantly draws you in and is guaranteed to have you hitting the repeat button.”
“Saw her support John Newman and was like whoa! Superb voice. Await the album with glee.”
“Laurel clearly knows what she wants to achieve and the type of music she wants to produce. Smart, sassy and self aware, there is a maturity and a certain air of knowing that surpasses her youth. Now London-based and having spent time in LA writing and recording, there’s a debut album planned for release later this year. To the hills and far away, go get lost in the sounds of Laurel.”
“Produced and written by Laurel herself, lead track ‘To The Hills’ is almost otherworldly. Perfectly showcasing her knack for creating cinematic music dark in tone and beguiling in melody, it is as haunting as it is seductive and poignant.”
“Her debut EP To The Hills, while short and sweet with only five tracks is hard-hitting yet playful. The first track, ‘To The Hills’, opens with a graceful stringed arrangement, which makes way for the multi-layered vocals of Laurel. A modestly simple beat lays the foundation for haunting lyrics that lead through an arduous journey. The hook “Get higher higher/Get higher higher” enhances the pronounced tension and raises the feeling of running from an unknown danger… To The Hills has a bold, distinctive simplicity running straight through the EP and is a much-needed refreshing break from the sycophancy of today’s popular music.”
“Many comparisons are chucked at Laurel from the obvious Lana Del Ray and Florence that are thrown at every female artist that stands in front of a mic singing falsetto these days to more obscure inventions. I feel she is more unique than critiques give her credit. My first memory of Laurel was a pleasant smiley young lady playing acoustic gigs at Southampton’s Talking Heads and former legendary Southampton live music heyday Hamptons. She was a clear talent even back then with success written in her voice as she sang wholesome flowery pop songs that melt the heart. This image of a low-tech flowery country dress girl and her guitar has been well and truly shattered tonight with a performance that was sheer and cutting, dark and moody, unbridled and confident in its originality. The fluffiness of her coat could be seen from all across the land.”
With over 4,000 Facebook devotees (and a healthy army across Twitter and other social media sites), our heroine’s stock is on the rise. With her striking (lavender) E.P. colours, and a confident collection of tracks to her name, it is only a matter of time before Laurel ascends through the ranks of the underground, and to the precipice of modern music- rubbing shoulders with the Del Reys, Grammars and Nutinis of the world. When it comes to the female solo market, the competition here is as fierce and intense as one could imagine. With every passing week we are introduced to a gilded sweetheart; made susceptible to our most drooling instincts with a silk voice or soothing set of lungs. Music is a beast whose praise and patronage is simultaneously pernicious and a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have witnessed a great deal of female solo talents be hailed as near-genius; only to find that their sound is rather limpid- and their majesty quickly fades. Other times, critics are bang on the mark, and you get to watch a worthy talent gain their just rewards. When I surveyed female talents such as Chess, Jen Armstrong, Ruby Macintosh and Elena Ramona, I instantly knew that these names would be ones to watch very closely. A unique flair and determination augments their sounds, which are a blend of hard-hitting mandates on love and tender and evocative paens to life itself- as well as there being some witty and arresting numbers thrown into the mix. Too many critics become complacent when promoting a new act; others underestimate the potential of various examples- making it hard to really determine which artists are going to be future stars. Laurel is a young lady that is not only going to be bossing the festival scene in years to come; she has an intractable charm and allure that not only hits you from the moment she sings a note- yet becomes more evident as you investigate her music closely. A lot has happened quite quickly for our heroine. When interviewed by Idol Magazine (last month), Laurel explained how she came to become a songwriter:
“It was only a year or so ago that I started writing all of the music. I was co-writing with people, but I’ve never wanted to sing other people’s songs. I just don’t enjoy it. So, I started to produce my own. That is when I really started to love my music. I always knew want sound I wanted to create. But there were a lot of producers trying to change it; saying it was similar to other females. I tried all this different stuff, but I just came back full circle.”
All of this has lead to the here and now, and the E.P. itself. When talking to the magazine about how she projects herself; whether there is a certain mould or model in mind, our heroine was very honest and matter-of-fact about it:
“When you are doing something creative you can’t decide what people like and try to adhere to it. So, I just write whatever I want. If it is a good song, then great. If it’s bad, I don’t mind because I got my feelings out. It is usually more of a story from things that have happened in my life.”
A couple of days ago I featured Australian solo act Vancouver Sleep Clinic, and the (young) man behind the moniker; stunned at the depth and detail in his music; the sheer force of his voice and compositions- and how intelligent and poetic his words were. Being in his teens, we are going to hear a hell of a lot from him; a future L.P. is a distinct possibility, and it will be fascinating to watch this blossoming talent stretch towards the sky. Similarly, Laurel’s author has a potency and sense of captivation about her songbooks that lead me to declare that she will be a legend-in-waiting. Many people have already proclaimed how beautiful and striking To the Hills is; so for that reason, I have no choice but to add my applause.
Euphoric and cinematic strings open up the E.P., and introduce To the Hills’ opening track (and the title cut). You can detect a hint of Lana Del Rey in the sapling coda; the equivalent beauty is there, yet to my mind To the Hills’ string composition is more emphatic and potent. In the same way Bjork was capable of eliciting the same heady majesty on albums such as Debut and Post, here something equally stirring is presented. There is nothing hard-edged, foreboding or barbed wire about the compositional tone; it is romantic and swaying; one gets the impression of our heroine clothed in white- looking over the balustrade at hero below. It could easily be the a parable that scores of a classic film of the ’40s and ’50s; something epic and scene-building is afoot. With some electronic pulses, with its sonar radar and pulverizing heartbeat, our heroine approaches the mic. Early words tell of “Into the hills/Cry the tears of the crocodiles/Lost feet on the road/Said I love you so I don’t have to be alone“; the words temporized and staunchly delivered with a strong head. In so much as there are some faint influences afoot (Del Rey, Bjork etc.), you get the impression that this is very much the heartfelt testament of a young woman; one whom has her own soul and is pouring it forth. The composition is confident and fully realised, with an authority that bellies her tender years. Black-and-white film scenes mingle with sharp fashion and sweeping overtures; there is a mix of dark and brooding as well as elliptical and redemptive. Whether our heroine is surveying a personal experience- or else writing from fiction- I am not sure, yet I sense the former is probably true. When the words “Smoke fast/Out the door” are delineated, our heroine’s voice is dripping in meaning and emotion; you can hear something more vulnerable is lurking beneath the surface, yet (thus far) she is holding strong. Few songwriters put you in the scene; have the ability to draw your mind into the song, so that you can picture what is being sung. The music video for the song goes a long way to articulating the images, yet everyone will have their own version of events. Somewhere in the hills of Hollywood our heroine and heroine are making their way through the morning; barely saying a word, they are draped in cigarette smoke and the subtle chill of the hour. Singing “Sun’s coming up to early/My valentine“, the words stick inside your mind and you are won over by the plight and events that are unfolding. The chorus arrives, and the words are almost chanted; there is a strength and determination in the delivery that makes words such as “I don’t know if I could live much more” more emphatic and emotive. With our heroine’s distinct voice and accentuation bringing the words fully into view, the words sway and flow (where as before they were slowed and more fatigued); our heroine has a sense of the upbeat in her voice- although events are still downturned and oppressive. With our heroine smoking heavily and “Feeling on my own“, she has “Lost control“, there is an underpinning of hope and youthfulness (the backing vocal of “Higher, higher” adds weight and potency to the scenery). The way that the composition subtly and imperiously strikes is an impressive facet. Most contemporaries would err on the side of energy and needless force; throwing instruments and electronics into the mix, fearful that listeners would become bored or uninterested. Our heroine mixes electronic pulses with short-sprinting string bursts, adding an impressive amount of intrigue and passion into the palette but letting her voice shout the loudest. With only the faintest of nods to an Icelandic queen and a flame-haired modern-day idol, Laurel is encapsulating the feeling of emptiness and romantic abandon with a distinct and striking voice. Our heroine is on the beach and feeling alone; the sensation and feeling of her sweetheart’s touch still lingering on her lips; you get the sense of something spectral; that her lover is almost ghost-like and distant- that it is a paen to past memories. When the chorus is re-injected, it moves the story along, and you get the sense that our heroine is fleeing almost, desperate to escape to the hills; get away from life and find something more meaningful. The next verse demonstrates another pace shift; where the words are more delicately delivered; they are dripped and ease from the microphone, with sensual yet emotional implore. Telling us that “I feel it here on my skin“; she is in the garden of angel; an ethereal and spellbinding tingle is uttered in the composition; subtle electric guitar springs fuse with scuttling electronics to present meteorological elements, blood flow and inner tension. In spite of the sense of tears in the voice, the song has a striking message; one where our heroine will “Cry with joy/’Cause I know Hell follows me/Out here“. By the time that the chorus comes back around again, you wonder if redemption or answers will be realised; whether solace and peace will be found; and if resolution is forthcoming. It is an impressively confident and memorable opener that mixes darker cinematic sweeps with vintage scenes; our heroine the fashionista idol lays her heart on the line, and puts the listener directly in the song; her rich and stunning voice make every words burrow into your skin- To the Hills is a song that is hard to ignore. Some far-off and ghostly echo opens up Nicotine Dreams. Crackling and primal percussive notes back the apporitional cries; the intro. is one that atmospheric and detached, but also tantalising and mood-building. The opening notes mutate and evolve like a Trip Hop track of the ’90s; the same thing that master purveyors Massive Attack would unleash- with no less conviction and potency. The track sees our heroine (once again) detail and gently deploys her words, ensuring that the meanings are understood and stay with you. Sitting on the front lawn, our heroine is “so bored“, it seems as though the weight of modern-life is getting on her shoulders; Laurel sits back and watches everything unfold, but the mood is a lot more upbeat. As with To the Hills there is a dream-like element to the vocals; one which makes words like “Drunk all our money/In with nicotine dreamers/Heads lost inside the clouds” sound both striking and romantic. Where as the E.P.’s opening salvo was perhaps more emotive and strained, here is the documentation of two lovers living life in the freest sense; doing what they want to do. Our heroine says that her man would “die for me right now“; a sense of comfort and safety in her voice that has been a long time coming. The chrous is an augmentative and celebratory parable, one imbued with a modern and current flair. Where as the title track had vintage shades and classic movie scene sounds, there is a 21st century flavour that brings full life to the uplifted words: “Say, Oh Virginia/He’s the king I’m his queen/Best he’s ever seen/Oh buttercup take the sun with me you’re the dark star in the sky.” What I have noticed (at this point) is the sense of emotional range and common themes. From an opening that perhaps foretold of shadows and demons chasing our heroine to hillside recesses; a sense of detachment, here something more hopeful remains. Laurel is adept at projecting an inspired and renewed vigour, yet still intones some darker and shadier themes into the pallet. Themes such as God, devils and demons make an appearance intermittently; glamour, nicotine and sensuality mingle alongside one another, and our heroine has a genuine passion for lyrics and wordplay. Once more echoed and distant backing vocals help to add emotional weight and a far-off quality; lightning flash electronics and percussive scuffs kick an additional compositional gravity, and the vocal is commanding. There is no austerity or coldness in the vocal; an air of sexiness and seduction comes through, and you can practically feel Laurel’s breath through the speakers. With our heroine dancing with the Devil’s crown, the voice almost cracks (with emotion) as the words “Getting lost in strip clubs/Baby hallelujah/Everything we want we found” are delivered. Laurel has a clear affection for Americana, the images of Vogue magazine; old films with U.S. automobiles shooting towards the sunset. Far away from Southampton and London, our heroine and her sweetheart are once more driving into the distance- yet perhaps things might be different this time. Her lover is saying her name, in a way that she knows means he loves her; there may be a chance of happiness. What hits you is how skillfully words are projected and deployed; they are syncopated and pauses; ellipsis is laid in and then lines tumble and rush. With such a consideration towards language and its pacing, the words are giving additional consideration and weight; lines become more effective and electioneering- and the listener gets the impression of someone innately in tune with the needs of the modern-day music-lover. As the song’s fire starts to burn out, our heroine unveils a final verse: “Wide eyes boy/Am I glamorous as pearls/And all the other girls/Sell me out my lover, no other/Makes me feel as sweet as you do/It’s too much to lose“. There is an underlying feeling of ambiguity and double-meaning within the lyrics that make you wonder whether there is sincerity evident; if the romance is as wonderful as it could be- or if her beau is going to let her down or sell her short. Our heroine wants to hold on and embrace the feeling, yet you sense that there is an anxiety or doubt in the back of her mind; a feeling that possible things may not last. That may be me over-examining and misinterpreting, but such is the power of the music, that you are compelled to look into the words and investigate them thoroughly. The E.P.’s final track (original one; there are two remixes that follow it), is Shells. When speaking with the girls are, Laurel explained that the track was based around a personal love; in her own words: “It’s a song that reminds me of when I was madly in love with a boy and it was suddenly all over, so I have a really big attachment to it.” This time around, the intro. is not brooding or emotive; there is tenderness to it, but it more fairy-like and fairground; a sense of innocence and sinlessness preside over it. When the vocals arrive, they are tender and sweet; our heroine delivers the lines with a relentless pace; as though she has to get them out no matter what- the feeling of urgency comes fully into the fore. When singing “Skin and bones/We’ve lost ourselves“, the words are punctuated and emphasised by a composition which is classical-sounding and extremely tender. Boasting the most romantic and purest soundscape, piano rushes and skips give sentiments like “Holding on to all we’ve felt” an emotional weight that is hard to shake off. Keeping her voice true and levelled, Laurel’s anonymous paramour made her fall in love (“Just in time“); he has managed to win her over and entrance her- yet we know how the story ends. It appears that the (anti-) hero is tying our heroine in knots; causing her heart to skip, stop and rictus. The vocal that is presented at the 1/3rd mark is the sweetest and more balletic on the E.P. With a purity and crystalline delicacy, our heroine twirls and spins her words; they breathlessly twinkle and sparkle. At 1:26 a skiffling and striking percussive hammer-blow comes into the mix; it rushes rap-like; with a certain menace that juxtaposes with the piano yet beautifully entwine. Her lover pushed her out “to survive” and the marks and scars of the fall-out have caused romantic agoraphobia. Our heroine is afraid to go back to the start and allow herself to become vulnerable and susceptible; made clear and concise with the punchy and perpetual motion of the composition. It is the sense of urgent unrest and push that makes the sonic score the finest on the E.P.; it never lets up and ensures that the track remains fully ensconced within your brain. The vocal sways, strikes and rouses with a delicate purity that is ethereal and mesmeric. With “tired eyes“, Laurel is picking herself up and trying to survive; trying to move on and make sense of it all. You can understand why the song means so much to our heroine; because of the personal nature of the track, she has gone out of way to ensure that it resonates with the listener- both the composition and the lyrics are well thought-out and stirring. The weightlessness and emotiveness of the vocals hit hard, and the song’s nature and themes can be extrapolated and relate to everyone- a lot of people would have been in the same situation as our heroine. With two To the Hills remixes completing the set, it is a confident, consistent and stunning collection, that shows what a talent Laurel is. She has her influences, but is determined to stand apart from any other names. There are cinematic touches of Lana Del Rey (and that same Americana-cum-cigarette strewn scenery); complex and nuances compositions that put you in mind of Bjork; Florence and the Machine’s emphatic power and detailed soundscapes- as well as a semblance of London Grammar when the vocal is at its most powerful. Overall, there is a clear sense of a young woman with a clear identity; a voice that is singular and rare- and a talent that will see her with a long career ahead. The tracks are well programmed and sequenced, so that the range and moods and emotions are presented effectively. There has been a lot of heartbreak, romantic dislocation (and happiness) in our heroine’s life, and she proudly lays it out in its full glory. There are no teenage strops or immature utterances; everything is maturely and confidently unveiled; making the E.P. more impressive and striking. Laurel takes care of the compositional and production duties, and does not miss a step throughout. Each instrumental and electronic element is carefully and tactically deployed, and nothing is buried in the mix. The vocals are clearest and highest on the order, but the sonics are clearly visible and weighty. Perhaps some decipherability does get lost within the headiness of Shells, but it is a minor negative in an E.P. that offers multitudes of positives. The first career steps are always tentative and unpredictable, yet on the basis of To the Hills, our heroine should have no fear. The three (original) tracks showcase a tender talent whom has had a tumultuous past, yet is able to transform and adapt that into some wonderful music, that can be loved and enjoyed by everyone. Certain songs could be used in stirring and epic film scenes (To the Hills and Nicotine Dreams); whereas the swan song could enjoy life as a club favourite. I am sure that Laurel has her own plans and views with regards to her tracks, but such is the burden she has- there will be so many options. With an album in the pipeline, many eyes will be trained to Laurel and what she comes up with next. It is going to be an exciting time ahead, and one which (given the momentum from her E.P.) will offer up many vibrant and scintillating soundtracks of modern love and life.
My opening statements about mainstream music may seem blithe and irrelevant, yet for all its inconsequentiality, it actually highlights a valid issue. I was stunned when Paolo Nutini released Caustic Love, not only because of the quality of material being offered up, but also because it seemed so alien and detached; an aberration that I have rarely seen. With a huge waft of mediocre and unspectacular offerings coming through (each week), genuinely wonderful albums can seem unexpectedly strange. In my reviews, I often expound the wonders of new musicians; not as aimless subterfuge, but to highlight how mesmeric sapling sounds can be. The amount of quality being offered by the unsigned, uninitiated and fledgling is outweighing the mainstream market by such a degree, that the majority of my music listening revolves around fresh sounds- acts whom are unfamiliar to the wider populace. Laurel is an example of an artist whom proves me point, and goes to show just how spectacular and interesting new music can be. I guess my reticence towards her lack of personal details (on her social media sites) seem inconsequential, as the sheer wonder of her music does all the talking. Whilst some sound bites and quotations would be supplementary, a lot of the gaps are filled in when you examine To the Hills– you gain an insight into the young woman who is a lot richer than anything that can be found on Facebook. Her startling beauty is reflected within her trio of original songs, which compel you with their titles; draw you in with their seductive beauty- and grab your ears with their startling sounds. The music and compositions are deep and rich; filled with nuance, emotion and introspection- as well as moments of joy and sanguine decadence. Comparisons will be (and have been) levied towards the likes of Lana Del Rey and London Grammar (amongst others), but our heroine stands apart from these examples- and her contemporaries at large. Laurel’s voice is possessed of a delicate beauty; one which mists the eyes and sways the head, yet capable of summoning up a huge amount of power and erotic electricity. When reviewing Vancouver Sleep Clinic a couple of days ago, I was impressed how he could take themes of love’s rubbles- and inject a degree of originality and invigoration into them. Most modern musicians tend to project an over-simplified and predictable set of lyrics, yet Laurel is marking herself out as a lyricist to watch- and one whom has an intuitive and educated ear for melody. The compositions presented are evocative and stunning; ranging from symphonic and multifarious lustre, across to sighing and romantic side-streets- with a huge amount of mobility and fluidity throughout. When chatting with the girls are, a valid point was raised: the hardships and struggles of being a woman in the music workplace:
“It’s a part of the experience of being a woman in the music industry that Laurel perceives as an ongoing challenge, “I think it’s hard as a female to set yourself aside from other girls in the limelight. We are all constantly compared to one another and told to be different and make our own mark. For me, I am not trying to make revolutionary music, and I don’t specifically take any influence from my contemporaries. I think we obviously all grew up listening to similar music, so we all are taking influence from the same experiences and music of our time.”
The interview feature paints the portrait of a young artist with a clear sense of identity; one that is not enforced by her peers, but drawn from her personal experiences. Whilst there are shades and undertones of certain musicians, the abiding feeling is one of individuality- someone whom stands out from the crowd of copycat wannabes. At the close of the article, the author went on to conclude:
“Laurel clearly knows what she wants to achieve and the type of music she wants to produce. Smart, sassy and self aware, there is a maturity and a certain air of knowing that surpasses her youth. Now London-based and having spent time in LA writing and recording, there’s a debut album planned for release later this year. To the hills and far away, go get lost in the sounds of Laurel.”
A debut album is a prospect that will water many-a-mouths, and is something that will be in our heroine’s mind. Whether we will see an L.P. this year (or next) I am unsure, but I can guarantee that it will be instilled with the same qualities and layers that are evident within To the Hills. Whilst there is less sexual inequality and subjugation in the music industry (compared to the workplace at large), it is clear that there is a lot of inter-genre rivalry; a certain sense of hard-faced competitiveness has scared more than a few artists off the scent. Many female solo artists have a similar sound, and the spats and battles between them can be intense and bloodthirsty. Part of the problem centres around expectation and the business of comparisons. Many critics (I have been culpable once or twice) are quick to label a new act as “The Next…”; a new Mariah Carey or Amy Winehouse, which not only puts pressure on that musician, but also squelches their unique personality. Whilst our heroine understands how relentlessly difficult it can be to stand aside from your peers, her debut E.P. will go a long way to ensuring that tongues are set a-wagging. Too much new music sounds homogenized and samey, so the fact that Laurel has such a distinct and particular voice means she will have a prosperous longevity. The talent and intentions that are mandated within her songs uncover a curious and ambitious creative mind; one that is going to be a massive name to watch. She is taking inspiration from a number of different sources; from her day-to-day life, through to the big screen:
“Films are a big influence… ones with great sound tracks like Rush, and Where the Wild Things Are. I love the film Place Beyond the Pines too. I love the dark atmosphere which I try and get across in my songs. I’m also influenced by magazine editorials – the words they use in Vogue are beautiful – a few of my songs like ‘To the Hills’ and ‘The Desert’ are concepts taken from pieces of writing.”
If you are in a quagmire or bored with what music there is on offer, then snapping up Laurel’s debut E.P. is the most perspicuous thing you could do- and would be a great largesse. Here is a young woman with a busy and exciting future ahead of her, and the best way to proffer and support an artist of this calibre, is not only to listen to her music- but share and disseminate it, so that many others can do likewise. In a social media age, there still seems to be too much compartmentalization and selfishness, and many artists find it hard to gain a widespread legacy. I would advise everyone to assist in divulging our heroine’s music as freely as possible, as it not only fits perfectly with the sun-kissed weather are experience, but has a timeless and indiscriminate appeal. The next few months are going to be action-packed and exciting, as our heroine explained to Idol Magazine:
“We just announced I’m supporting a band called ‘Wet’ from New York. I really love them. I’m playing The Great Escape in May. And then I’m going back to America to do some shows in Toronto, Philadelphia, LA, New York, Washington and some other places. I’m pretty excited to go to New York. I would definitely love to live there for a couple of years.”
It seems that the U.S. may be a future home for Laurel, but for now she is concentrating on To the Hills; the reaction it gleams and how it resonates with the music-buying community. The straw poll and the ballot boxes are hinting at a landslide victory; one that should provide our heroine with a great sense of accomplishment- and perhaps some personal relief too. The air and lifestyle London is offering is conducive to creative inspiration, so she may be remiss to head to the U.S. any time soon. In an industry that is as notable for its cynicism and fickleness as it is for its fairness, Laurel will take solace in the fact that so many people are paying their respects to her music; that it is having such a marked impact. Too many great and vital artists are being overlooked and being granted a short-lived regard; investigate Laurel’s wonderful E.P. and keep it close to your heart…
OTHERWISE you may miss out on something truly remarkable.
To the Hills Track Listing:
To the Hills- 9.7/10
Nicotine Dreams- 9.6
To the Hills (The Jane Doze Remix)- 9.5
To the Hills (Woodysproduce Remix)– 9.5
Standout track: Shells
Laurel’s music videos are available at: