Låpsley, née Holly Lapsley Fletcher, is a U.K.-based, young-in-years, singer-songwriter and musician who knocked out her first electronic pop recording, the EP Monday, from the locus of her bedroom in 2013. In 2015 she released her second EP, Understudy, on XL Recordings. Along the way Låpsley has been gathering ardent fans and critical accolades which should continue with the delivery of her 12 song-long debut album Long Way Home March 4th on XL Recordings.
While Monday sports minimalistic instrumentation to support Låpsley’s compelling vocals, Understudy displays a fuller, polished sound and more melodic song structures. Låpsley’s main appeal, however, is not her music per se, but her emotionally muted to stirring voice and perceptive, bittersweet lyrics. The focus is on her at all times, whether she’s flitting about in a light, delicate tone on her first single, “Station”, hesitantly feeling about with a fragile vocal delivery on following single “Painter (Valentine)”, or singing in a more assured, but pained, manner on “Falling Short” from Understudy.
Long Way Home incorporates those three earlier tracks, but also continues with Låpsley’s evolution into a bone fide chart-topper. She is a songstress who is always center stage on her songs and she’s developed her emotions, voice, and sonics into a product of mass appeal without running away from her Merseyside vocal roots. She seems to be aiming for labelmate Adele’s territory with her vocal intonation, sometimes ruminating in a thicker, smoky tone and at others, employing an airy, wistful delivery. Låpsley sings of heartbreak and lost connections; about life’s continual struggle – when her words can be heard, that is. Many times her words are murmured in such a way as to make them difficult to discern clearly.
Bedroom-born “Station” is marred by intermittent noises that sound like a dog woofing, but the subdued, globular keyboard reverberations and Låpsley’s light, but longing tone are engaging. The impressionistic “Painter” gets it right with more emphatic, wavering keyboard notes, music box chime, handclaps, a slowly thumping beat, and Låpsley’s doubled and overlapping vocals. She lays down her barely formed words in what sounds like empty room. Låpsley gives this tune and many other numbers a masculine, soul-pop vibe by including vocal forays where her voice has been deepened and warped into the pitch and intonation of a hip-hop guest artist. Its appeal fades quickly over the course of the album, but for a while it’s an interesting twist on her spare, restrained vocal style.
“Falling Short” is rife with this soul-pop attitude as Låpsley sings in more direct, yet aching tone that’s shadowed by the droning, hip-hop-like vocals. The lyrics are realistically gritty as she matter-of-factly sing-talks with a tinge of regret “One month ‘til February / keep on holdin’ on / and I know we’re short.” amid reflective piano notes, ticking cymbals shimmer, and a finger snap beat.
A spacious ambience radiates through the refined, mid-tempo lead single “Love Is Blind” which consists of Låpsley’s solid, medium to higher range singing, a steadily thumping beat, clicking percussion, and bright keyboard and piano notes. The chorus sections, with their cascading sprinkle of harp-like notes, added vocal harmonies, and kicky drum motifs, provide minor uplift as Låpsley repeats the refrain “Love is blind when the lights go out” like a feel-good mantra.
The emotionally potent and lyrically-resonant “Hurt Me”, another single from Låpsley’s past, also reappears on Long Way Home. Heavily manipulated vocal fragments start off and occasionally mark the tune, a processed contrast to Låpsley’s natural and commanding vocals. She breaks free from her usual mild musings and exclaims in a wounded tone “I can see the end in sight at last / so if you’re gonna hurt me / why don’t you hurt me a little bit more?” Låpsley slips into a substantial regional accent for parts of “Hurt Me” and her distinctive enunciation is scattered through some of the other songs on Long Way Home.
Bold, piano-based album-opener “Heartless” prominently features Låpsley’s home-grown dialect as she rapidly dances around the syncopated beat and understated piano notes. The song sporadically swells with a quicker tempo, richer piano notes, and floating, woodwind-like keyboard notes. “Tell Me The Truth”, with its repetitive chorus refrain of “Just tell me the truth / It’ll hurt less I guess.”, done with Låpsley’s main vocals and that seemingly ubiquitous, hip-hop-like tone, grates soon after its inception. Piano ballad album-closer “Seven Months” balances out with an equal measure of agitation and calm. Clattering hand drums and sharper vocals contrast with wispier vocal harmonies and contemplative piano notes. Låpsley adds her male-sounding, processed vocals to the last, dropping her pitch amid guitar-like reverberating strokes, tinkering percussion, and the rather bleak, but thematically-fitting, line “…I would take the long way home / and you will follow… / but I would always be alone…”
review by Jen Dan