One of the first thoughts that came to me when I listened to Låpsley’s first album, “Long Way Home”, was just how ahead of her years she sounds. She has the air of an artist who has been around for over twenty years or more, when in fact she herself is less than that at the time of writing. At the age of just nineteen, she has already laid the first stones of what will hopefully be a very long, and no-doubt will be a very successful, career.
My first taste of her music was from her 2015 E.P. Understudy and it was the opening song “Falling Short”, which was the only song from that E.P. to feature on “Long Way Home”, that immediately got me hooked on her minimalist arrangements and stunning voice.
I can honestly say that she is an artist who I could pick out of a thousand, identifying her with confidence based on her voice alone. She is one of those singers whose voice you simply can not forgot once you’ve heard it.
Room by room
The opening song “Heartless” serves as a welcoming, calm introduction to this interesting, boundary-pushing album, “Long Way Home”. “Heartless”, like many of this album’s songs, is centred around a calm piano harmony with Låpsley’s voice up front. This isn’t, however, a run-of-the-mill piano ballad as it contains, as does a lot of the album, some really effective uses of odd samples and interesting production techniques.
“Hurt Me”, the album’s next song, opens with a synthesized staccato melody, which really drove me into the album and introduced me to the kinds of sounds that I just wasn’t expecting until now. Even at the end of the song there are odd little samples that work perfectly in a really weird kind of way. By now I knew that Låpsley was an artist not only ahead of her own years, but that of many of her contemporaries too.
I’m not going to mention every song, as I’d like you to find out for yourself, but I do just want to say something about the third song “Falling Short”, the video for which I have included at the end. The lyrics in this song are some of the most cryptic for me. The lyrics seem extremely personal and the way that she delivers them serves to enhance that feeling. In all honesty it was only as I write this now that I have actually gone and looked at the actually songs lyrics as a whole. This song’s lyrics – along with the rest of the album’s – can be enjoyed through simply listening to them being sang, without any real thought into what they mean. Looking deeper into those meanings is like peeling back the onion layers of this complex, compelling artist.
One month till February Keep on holdin’ on And I know it’s short And I know it’s short
And it’s times like these And it’s days like these And it’s times like these And it’s days like
It’s been a long time comin’ But I’m falling short It’s been a long time comin’ But I’m falling short
Falling Short from Long Way Home
Falling Short from Long Way Home
As the album approaches its half -way point with the fifth song, “Operator (He doesn’t call me)”, the album’s sound took an up-tempo turn. This song’s story centres around a woman whose boyfriend doesn’t call her. Instead she finds herself in contact more with the phone operator, and so considers falling in love with the operator instead. It’s a fun song with it’s routes in one of the most boring aspects of life – being kept on hold. Låpsley seems to have the ability to find little nuggets of inspiration in unlikely places.
He doesn’t call me so put me through operator Maybe I’ll leave him and fall in love with you operator My baby doesn’t call me so put me through operator So tell me should I leave him and fall in love with you operator
Operator (He doesn’t call me) from Long Way Home
Operator (He doesn’t call me) from Long Way Home
One of my favourite songs on “Long Way Home” is called “Station”. It is one of the most minimal as I remember that has everything that I love in her music – her voice sang with shifted pitches, layered to hamonize with each other; great sound effect samples used in refreshing ways – notable one which sounds like a pitch-shifted dog woof; minimal instruments that make her voice almost acapella. “Station” is beautifully haunting and would serve as a perfect introduction if one hadn’t ever heard Låpsley’s music before.
The last but one song, “Leap”, reminds me of something from Radiohead’s Amnesiac album, with beautiful echoing synth sounds with a basey, driving beat – not fast – just driving.
Lock the door behind you
Versatility and and a desire for experimentation – this is what Låpsley brings to her craft. I love as well how she doesn’t settle on a set of default samples across the album. Throughout it you will keep hearing new and unusual sounds that never feel disjointed or mish-mashed. I get the impression that she has toiled for hours and hours over the years, building up a unique sensibility for how to put these sounds together in really interesting ways.
Something I’ve also noticed, listening closely whilst writing this review, is how much more I’m hearing around the main songs that I don’t remember hearing before – the odd sample or harmonisations. This album really is a gift that keeps on giving.
This week I had the pleasure of not only publishing my first interview, but also to have interviewed one of my favourite artists at the moment – London-based, electronic royalty, Queen of Hearts – real name Liz Morphew. Her debut album, Cocoon, is currently getting a daily playing on my headphones and you should check it out too! You can read an earlier recommendation of this album that I posted a while back.
Please tell us about yourself in as many or as little words as you like.
Wears heart on sleeve, dances until the early hours, writer, dreamer, spiritual, thrill seeker.
Growing up, who were your heroes in music?
Michael Jackson, The Spice Girls, Marvin Gaye, The Thompson Twins, Wham, Prince.
Growing up, who were your heroes outside of music?
My Grandad and my mum
What was the first album you remember buying?
Natalie Imbruglia or maybe one of the “Now” albums. I also had “heal the world” on cassette which was bought for me and played on repeat until the foil stuff came out – a sad day haha!
Was there any defining moment in your life when you knew that you wanted to write, record and perform music?
I wrote with my friends when we were kids but just stupid stuff. We didn’t care, we loved creating stories and playing out a part. I studied musical theatre and was classically trained but never felt a pull toward that, I think I knew I always wanted to create & experiment rather than sing other people’s songs. Moving to London changed my life and I was fortunate to meet and write with some incredible people – everything grew from there really.
Who is your biggest influence in how you approach what you do today?
In terms of song writing Sia, Max Martin, Brian Higgins and Ryan Tedder. Musically, I listen to so much I suppose I take inspiration from bits here and there, I know what I like but also keep open minded and try to push myself both writing and who I choose to listen to/ see live / buy records
What is the proudest moment of your career so far?
Probably releasing my debut album ‘Cocoon’ and performing at the BT London Live for the Olympics in 2012. Although I’ve done so much I never thought I would achieve, there are so many other moments too!
What is your Favourite Book?
What is your Favourite Album?
Lucid Dreaming – Say Lou Lou or Hurts Happiness – they both remind me of certain times in my life and I think music should evoke emotion – good or bad. Also Robyn Body Talk is a badass album.
What is your Favourite Film?
When Harry met Sally
What is your Favourite TV Show?
Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. I love the undateables for comfort tv, it warms my heart.
Do you have a favourite film/tv/musical soundtrack?
Probably Tron (daft punk) or the Despicable Me films as they were done by Pharrell Williams. 50 shades of Grey had an amaaaazing soundtrack but we won’t talk about the quality of the film
Are there any new albums you are binge listening to at the moment?
Coasts (self titled album) and Jamie XX in colour, oh and a lot of Carly Rae Jepsen E.MO.TION – so underrated
You’re walking somewhere and your mp3 player has only a little battery left; You’ve only got time for one more song. What song do you play?
Skip & Die – Love Jihad – literally the greatest song on my iPod
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Have more confidence to be you.
If you could ask any person – living or passed – any question, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I’d quite like to have a general conversation about life with Eckhart Tolle or Professor Steve Peters – I’m pretty obsessed with theories of the mind and spirituality.
Could you tell us a joke?
Who is a penguin’s favourite pop star — Seal (I’m not great at jokes- don’t judge.)
Thank you, Liz
A big thank you to Liz for taking the time to answer those questions. I remember The Alchemist being the book I happened to read that got me into reading regularly. And Say Lou Lou – love that album. I love their single “Better in the Dark” too.
Also a great joke – music-related too! You could say it was a ‘Killer’ joke!
The bohemian style of artistic life has always seemed like a very romantic one to me. The idea of an artist just upping and heading to a remote place for some unknown amount of time with nothing but a journal and a guitar and just writing for themselves. In today’s world of rushing about and the constant flow of nauseating crap of social networks, it would be easy for you to assume that that way of life was all but gone from the world.
Well you’d be wrong. Zella Day is flying that flag for me.
She embodies many things that I love about great artists and song writing – interesting, sometimes cryptic, lyrics; a fashion sense from days of old but made very much her own; music that is greater than the sum of its parts – she is the kind of artist that the world needs.
All killer, no filler.
On first listening to “Kicker”, I was immediately hooked with the sound of the guitar in the opening of the song “Jerome”. Before I’d even heard her stunning voice, my first thoughts were that if the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks had a rock night, Zella Day and band would go down really well. This first song also demonstrates her vocal abilities – varying her style throughout the song from verse to chorus to coda. From whispery, almost Stevie Nicks-esque sounding, to the controlled screaming of the songs title in the chorus.
The next song, “High” brings more focus to the massive drums and chugging rhythm guitar and does, by all accounts, have the parts needed to qualify as a rock song. But to label it as just a rock song, or a rock album for that matter, I feel would cheapen the album. Zella is bringing so much more to the mix that I don’t think a simple label is possible. It would be like calling Kate Bush simply a pop singer.
“1965” changes the sound up by focussing more on piano from the start and then using more minimal drums and climbing strings throughout.
“Hypnotic” is one of my favourite songs on “Kicker”, with one of my favourite riffs, and at just 4 seconds shy of 3 minutes, this song is as catchy and full of a hit song as they come.
“Mustang Kids” changes things up again with half of the vocals provided by Baby E, telling the story of a small no-name town with nothing good to do in it.
Small town gang got nothing to do We got guns, got drugs, got the sun and the moon We got big city plans but it always rains And the sheriff is a crook and knows me by name
I said momma was insane and daddy was a criminal I grew up in a trailer with a dream of fucking centerfolds Now I’m making money experimenting with chemicals The fact I’m still alive is why I still believe in miracles
Mustang Kids, Kicker
With “Jameson” we can hear a beautiful finger-picked guitar ballad that oozes country music sensibilities – with that slide guitar sound that is so engrained into country music. When you hear a song like “Mustang Kids” and then “Jameson”, you really get a sense of Zella’s versatility as an artist.
Easily my favourite song on “Kicker” is the album’s penultimate track, “Sweet Ophelia”, which is one of those songs that build up to a huge chorus with a slightly breakbeat drum beat that reminds me of Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole” beat. The musical arrangement serves to complement Zella’s voice to the final big chorus of the album and leads perfectly into the final song, “Compass”.
“Compass” is the perfect final song for an album with this much energy. A piano ballad that brings Zella’s voice to the forefront as she leads us back to our daily lives that more enriched.
Songs with quality roots
All of Zella’s songs, whether they be huge anthemic belters or mellow acoustic ballads, are all rooted in quality song writing and a unique vision. I also learned through watching her video series, Day X Day, that she writes all of her songs on guitar first – with the idea that they could all be played acoustic with no accompaniment if she wanted.
When you hear a song like “Hypnotic“, it may be hard to imagine it stripped back to vocal and guitar, but when you listen to her play it like this, you realise that her songs could either fill a stadium or a coffee shop. She is the very definition of a versatile artist.
I hate to use the term “X-Factor”, as that phrase is now synonymous with crap TV, but Zella Day definitely has that unknown ingredient that makes her musical vision and style special.
She is an artist whose career I will be following closely, and I strongly suggest you do too.