“My whole career will be about sad things,” Låpsley confided during an interview with NME a few months ago. “Happy songs about nightclubs and shots. That’s not me.” No great surprise then that the precocious and multi-dimensionally gifted British singer-songwriter-producer’s debut album Long Way Home, released yesterday, embodies a soul-baring melancholy and confessional, fireside-like intimacy that belies her 19 years.
Making good, and then some, on the early promise augured by her 2013 self-released Monday EP and the 2014 XL Recordings commissioned follow-up Understudy, Long Way Home showcases not only Låpsley’s lyrical strengths, but also her soulful, versatile voice and penchant for sonic adventurism. While electro-soul-pop acts like Banks, James Blake, Lianne La Havas, and London Grammar represent the closest analogs, Låpsley nevertheless orchestrates an elegant and enrapturing sound that is fundamentally the product of her own unique vision and brave ambition.
Self-produced with support from XL’s in-house producer Rodaidh McDonald, Long Way Home is an unequivocally sublime treat for the ears. Adorned with hushed piano strokes, dubstep-indebted flourishes, syncopated beats, and overlapping vocal manipulations through which Låpsley’s voice is thoroughly transformed at times, the album offers a fresh, differentiated take on the late-night, bedroom breed of electronica that has become more prominent in recent years.
Thematically, the pervasive thread that runs consistently throughout the twelve song suite is one of examining the fragility and impermanence of fledgling romance. The album’s opening trio of songs are immediate highlights and establish the emotional tone for the remainder of the album. A minimalist, piano-led arrangement that gradually builds toward a beat-driven crescendo, “Heartless” explores the painful toll exacted by a distant lover. Atop the dark, atmospheric groove of “Hurt Me,” Låpsley tests the limits of her heartache, challenging her partner by inquiring “So if you're gonna hurt me / Why don't you hurt me a little bit more? / Just dig a little deeper / Push a little harder than before.” The contemplative, gorgeously melodic “Falling Short” finds her attempting to salvage a relationship plagued by a lover who has strayed too far.
The propulsive, disco-house stomper “Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me)” is the most anomalous track here, forcing Låpsley out of her quiet comfort zone, as the album’s midway point approaches. It also proves that she’ll sound right at home when these songs are inevitably given the dancefloor-friendly remix treatment. Although she promptly returns to more subdued fare in the album’s second half, standouts abound, including the slinky rhythms of “Tell Me the Truth,” the grand, lighters-in-the-air ballad “Love is Blind,” the hypnotic lament of “Silverlake,” and the stirring closer “Seven Months.”
While some may be inclined to erroneously write off Long Way Home as mood music-by-numbers upon cursory listens, a closer inspection reveals so much more. Låpsley’s brave debut is a sterling collection of songs substantially more intriguing and gratifying than much of the UK-bred female pop out there today, including the comparatively sterile and overwrought compositions that define her XL labelmate Adele’s latest commercial behemoth of an album. Indeed, Long Way Home is a stellar first formal step toward what seems destined to be a fruitful future ahead for the supremely talented Låpsley.
Notable Tracks: “Falling Short” | “Heartless” | “Hurt Me” | “Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me)” | “Seven Months” | “Silverlake”