Debuts in music can be daunting and altogether treacherous endeavors. Artist development requires a deft touch – some artists succeed and capitalize fully on their first foray (see - Courtney Barnett), others simply burn out (see - JEFF the Brotherhood), or even worse, sometimes extensive anticipation can remove a promising artist from the public consciousness altogether (see – Sampha). Nevertheless, the point of the matter in debuting an artist consists of concerted effort and at times, unadulterated luck; all that to be said, of the handful of hotly anticipated debutants (Shura, Kehlani, Conrad Sewell) in 2016, few have summited the mountain of hype coinciding with their respective debuts as gracefully as XL gem, Låpsley.
At 19, Holly Lapsley Fletcher emanates a wizened perspective in her music that feels most akin to being the secret love child of Adele and James Blake. Since 2013, under the name Låpsley, she has been putting out dreamy minimalist electro pop – Monday EP independently and Understudy EP through XL – that connects with the listener in a visceral manner that’s its almost bewildering to consider the creator’s age. Her breakout track in 2014 (and third track on her debut), “Falling Short” is an austere song filled with tasteful production and self-aware lyrics – “Its been a long time coming, but I’m falling short” – that imbues a feeling of Låpsley’s jilted perspective in regard to a relationship long gone, or considering her age, maybe recent.
Låpsley’s debut album, Long Way Home, extends the mature tones present in her EPs to fully introduce a rare occurrence amongst debuting artist – full faith that she will not fall short of expectation. Opening track “Heartless” is one of the record’s fuller tracks – the slightest of departures from the minimal approach of prior Låpsley efforts – but it only enhances Låpsley’s prospects. Rather than stick to creating analogues of tracks that garnered her early notoriety, she expands her sonic spectrum with a single track on her debut.
A former single, “Hurt Me,” follows “Heartless,” and it once again showcases Låpsley’s versatility within her musical realm. The track is effectively the album’s outright anthem – coming to grips with a relationship gone awry – with Låpsley’s voice effortlessly shifting from soft murmurs into lung filled crescendos. All the while, the production is bigger, more vibrant than the tasteful minimalism of a “Falling Short,” but all the while feels unique to Låpsley.
Two more pre-release singles follow “Hurt Me;” “Falling Short” and “Cliff.” Of the first half of the album, “Cliff” is by far and away the strongest track. It runs the gauntlet of Låpsley’s sonic spectrum – echoing backing vocals, observational lyricism, minimalist production that explodes in a Jamie xx-esque club beat. The accompanying video for “Cliff” even fits the uniform mold of Låpsley minimalism; with Låpsley standing in the snow and simple camera zooms in and out on her face.
Where “Cliff” is the all around best track on Long Way Home, subsequent “Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me)” is the most empowered. With a sample at the onset, and a disco heavy beat to follow, the track also exhibits some of Låpsley’s strongest vocal work, with bellowing “My baby doesn’t call me / So tell me shit I needed to,” that give water to the occasional Adele comparisons.
The next four offerings on Long Way Home – “Painter,” “Tell Me The Truth,” “Station,” “Love Is Blind” – are more lyrically driven tracks that explore more of Låpsley’s perspectives of love, attraction, and relationships. Granted, some tracks are centered on less than fresh concepts – “love is blind with the lights out” – but others (“Station”) reveal seasoned perspectives of a skillful written voice – “Two for the taking, you can have it all at once if it makes you sane” – that’s unafraid to speak from personal experience.
The closing fourth of Long Way Home is comprised of “Silverlake,” an all-knowing narrative journey of a jaded perspective of a relationship somehow associated with the Los Angeles neighborhood of the same name – “Beautiful now, but soon you’ll be gone / By Silverlake I left a stake in the sun.” Closer, “Seven Months,” seems to be the most offertory – “Seven months I gave myself / Every night I’d say how I had my doubt” – and rounds out as one of the most finessed tracks on the record, blending Låpsley’s familiar minimalist sound with a meandering melody. Arguably the most amorphic of tracks on Long Way Home, it offers a glimpse into the future bevy of avenues Låpsley could choose to take on LP #2.
Long Way Home is altogether a triumphant introduction to an artist whose potential exceeds that of most acts in similar points of their careers. She approaches her production with a deft touch that seamlessly engages the listener with each facet of the music. Her lyricism is strong, but at times can leave more to be desired, but that’s almost certainly because of her age. As far as debuts are concerned, Låpsley’s is arguably the best this year to date, and is undoubtedly the first of many exceptional future records to come.