Monday, January 18, 2016

Music Monday: Light Up The Dark Review

         If you've followed this blog for awhile then you know how much a fan I am of Gabrielle Aplin. I first discovered her when she was a fifteen year-old releasing covers and self-made Eps on youtube. Her voice was untrained, and her skills in desperate need of honing, but ultimately it was her song writing that drew me in. Her lyrics were mature, etherial, and smart. She knew how to write a clever and engaging hook, and how to handle unpretentious metaphors alongside the teenage angst appropriate for her age. She's also, always been a bit of an old soul, with influences like Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell. These influences have never been more apparent, than with her sophomore album, Light Up The Dark.

         I loved Aplin's debut English Rain, but I had a few problems with it. English Rain was used an introduction to the uninitiated, but because the songs were written years apart from each other, the album failed to work as a coherent whole. This is no longer an issue with Light Up The Dark, which presents Aplin as the artist, she's been trying to be all these years.

          The album opens with the title track Light Up The Dark, which pushes Aplin's vocals much further than ever before. The track is energetic, dark and mysterious (it would fit very well in Bond soundtrack), but ultimately Light Up The Dark is one of the less exciting and nuanced tracks on the album.

This is followed by Skeleton, which is in my opinion one of the best songs Aplin's ever written. There are many influences apparent in the instrumentation of this track. The sweet, piano chords are reminiscent of the folk-pop that's been Aplin's comfort zone for so long, while the synth guitar, and vocals present a more modern edge. Aplin's etherial, whispy vocals could have let the song down, but somehow it all works perfectly.

Fools Love, brings to mind 70s pop, soulful and smooth. Aplin's vocals effortlessly glide through the whip-smart lyrics:

Silence in the hallway
There's nothing you can say
All false information
We've lost communication
There's something you've hidden 
You'e quietly taken
I fall every quarter
You hold me under your thumb

Sophisticated as Fools Love is, the song is a bit of a bore, and the album would have been that much stronger for leaving it out.

Slip Away is soulful, slinky and dramatic, and once again shows how much Aplin's voice has developed over the years. Sweet Nothing, is a joyful, dance number that mixes aspects of folk rhythm with old-time swing. As soon as chorus drops, you won't be able to stop your feet from tapping.

Heavy Heart is hands down the best song on the album. Lyrically it is intimate, and sadly honest. Aplin's vocals are appropriately understated for this track, as she uses the sweet, raspiness in her voice to good effect here.

Saw you staring into nothing
In the silence something's screaming
I know you're trying but there's nothing you can say...
We're bittersweet in the sunlight
We can't believe every story we're sold 
There's truth in the darkness we find.

Shallow Love begins with that old acoustic guitar, we all thought was gone forever, joined by bluesy percussion, and a little cheeky piano, and keyboard.

There's hints of  Florence And The Machine, in pop tracks Anybody Out There and Together,  while Hurt and What Did You Do? sound more in line with English Rain than anything else on the album. Hurt especially resonates with it's ernest lyrics and memorable chorus.

The album ends with the understated A While and the haunting bonus track Don't Break Your Heart On Me. The deluxe version offers five bonus tracks, most notable being Coming Home and The House We Never Built.

          All in all, Light Up The Dark is a complete improvement to the problems present in English Rain. This new release takes some interesting directions, and some new risks for Aplin, but it's clear that she's finally finding her sound. While Light Up The Dark is lacking the tenderness and transcendence of tracks like Salvation and Start of Time, I have very few issues with this album. It's kind of almost perfect.

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