Kyla La Grange – Ashes (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
THE debut album from Kyla La Grange showcases one of the most interesting female artists of the moment. It’s an epic, thoughtful affair that has garnered comparisons with everyone from Florence + The Machine to Kate Bush, while also seeming like the new ‘go-to’ musical source for Twilight fans.
But it’s far more than just a comparison piece. It’s an emphatic arriving statement from a singer-songwriter who is dripping with talent.
And it’s the sort of offering that’s diverse enough to mix in the rousing moments of bombast with the more tender moments of introspection that are designed to really get beneath the skin of this compelling artist.
Sure, some of the imagery plays to the Twilight crowd and anyone who gets their kicks from the vampire surge, but even that could be said to be a shrewd move for an artist in this current climate. Her songs seem ripe for pick-up on some soundtracks real soon.
Kyla herself admits the songs are born from early experiences of listening to songs like Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of The Heart, but has a sense for when things need to be big or small.
Every song, she explains, “starts with me and acoustic guitar, the folksy shell of what becomes a loud, bombastic song”. But “some songs on the album are just guitar and voice… but if I’m writing and my head feels like it’s going to explode, I need to shout about how I’m feeling.”The results are, by turns, tender and intimate or epic and genuinely rousing. Opening track and current single Walk Through Walls falls into the latter category and is a great jumping off point, with kick-ass guitars combining with stirring vocals and a thrilling chorus. It’s an almost inevitable Florence comparison track but the basis in guitars and rock-folk lends it an identity of its own.
Courage, meanwhile, slows down the tempo and adopts a huskier, more broken-hearted set of vocals befitting the crushed lyrics. And yet for all of its sorrow, it’s strangely empowering.
I Could Be gently aspires to a new romance and is rich in lush melodies and hushed longing, while To Be Torn finds Kyla’s vocals at their most fragile and heart-on-sleeve… lending the song an aching quality that’s difficult to resist.
But Vampire Smile, written when she was just 19, showcases those striking vocals and her ability to mix the sweet and the savage in her lyrics. It’s a dark and beguiling take on possession and obsession that will get under your skin and stay there, building steadily to a heady conclusion that’s dripping with power and atmosphere. Lyrically, it’s full of unsettling imagery and a mounting terror befitting its name, while the instrumentation is expertly realised to create something that’s by turns unsettling and utterly striking. Again, the mix of folk and pop and rock is notable.
That supernatural imagery filters on down to another album favourite, Woke Up Dead, which slow builds into another majestic anthem, while another former single, Been Better, drops some of the most instantly striking riffs on the LP and positively rocks your socks off in belting fashion. It’s a track that soars to Phil Spector-indebted wall of drums and guitars that’s vast enough to match her voice.
Heavy Stone, by contrast, opts for more slow build, stripping things back down for a set of intimate vocals and a guitar lament that slowly builds to a plea of “Please don’t hold me in your soul like a heavy stone, I am carrying my cold heart home”.
But the song swells into a fierce and furious anthem as her voice unfurls against an orchestral wall of sound… although there’s almost a haunted quality to them that provides a neat contrast to the fuller sound that accompanies the end of the record.
Further highlights come in the form of You Let It Go, which maintains an addictive rhythm, and album closer Lambs, which builds from a pulsating kettle-drum heartbeat, incorporates those smoky vocals, and includes a melody that sweeps into huge ceremonial harmonies, conveying the desperation and sadness of leaving someone behind.
In short, though, Ashes is one big highlight that marks one of the debuts of the year.
Download picks: Walk Through Walls, Courage, Woke Up Dead, Been Better, Vampire Smile, You Let It Go, Lambs