on 26 September 2014
Paradoxically, synth pop has become the alternative genre of choice. The sound has infected independent labels, turned over tables in the rock and roll dining room and called DIY musicians towards its siren-like charm. Never mind the commercial and mainstream connotations - ‘pop’ is becoming less and less of a dirty word by the day.
Entering the charts as often as it does your local indie dance floor, inarguably synth pop has its place on the market. It also quite rightfully dominates hearts. However, as with any commodity that suffers an upsurge in popularity, it’s become over saturated. Everyone wants a slice of the pecan pie and there’s only a dollop of golden syrup left. The genre tilts dangerously close to being overblown and ruined for the few who are truly capable of creating such great heights as a keyboard and high pitched harmony can create.
…And so it’s with some reservation that we approach Kyla La Grange’s new album Cut Your Teeth for the first time. The follow up to her distinctly indie-rock debut album Ashes hasn’t come easy for the London based singer songwriter. Recorded across the course of two years, it’s been a trial of tribulation borne, somewhat tellingly, out of a new found love for electronica.
Last year the album’s eponymous single whispered of the turnaround. Though retaining her macabre vision for the song, “Cut Your Teeth” also promotes a blatant, glorious new sound from Kyla La Grange. Like album standouts “Get It” and “Maia”, it’s full to the brim with understated vocal and sparse percussion. There’s not a guitar strap in sight. Follow up “The Knife” - a calypso inspired pop nougat put through a stainless steel blender - offers audible whisky for those in doubt, drowning out any concerns alongside similarly uber-slick tracks “White Doves” and “Never That Young”. In its entirety Cut Your Teeth proves Kyla La Grange was born to make synth pop music. She can do it very, very well.
Kyla hasn’t changed beyond recognition. Her lyrics continue to nod towards the darker side of life, taking inspiration from the demo that started it all, "Vampire Smile", by referencing skeleton outfits, canine behaviour and killing someone in a fit of jealousy. The difference is that these sweet nothings are consistently matched by something wholly different to anything on Ashes. Kyla has ditched nearly every other recognisable quality of her music. Without meaning to cast her previous efforts in a negative light, this was a very wise decision.
Predictably music critics have already begun to compare Cut Your Teeth to every female pop solo-act under the British sun, with exquisite focus on Ms Florence Welch. This is just about as useful as comparing St Vincent to PJ Harvey. Cut Your Teeth draws closer comparison to artists with a tendency to bore anyone who doesn’t wear fake prescription glasses; we’re talking Niki & the Dove, Say Lou Lou etc. Kyla’s overcome her brethren’s issues by producing an album that’s of equal high standard from start to finish, and she’s thrown in two great hooks per song for good measure. The result is a modern day Siobhan Donaghy with multi-coloured hair and a fascination with graveyards. It’s particularly amazing. Kyla La Grange, that golden syrup’s all yours.
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on 7 June 2014
I must admit, upon hearing the lead single "Cut Your Teeth", i was intrigued by the content of Kyla's sophomore album. Different from Ashes, more electric, disco-ed, with an almost 80's power ballad tinge the now trademark Gothic lyrics and soft vocals she provides.
However, i wasn't blown away, nor did i get my hopes raised too high; Ashes for me, was quite literally the stand out album of 2012 and showed a fantastic range of downbeat, upbeat, jump-around and almost instrument-less vocal. The Sophomore was always going to be difficult, and Cut Your Teeth was promising, but it wasn't a whole album.
Then Kyla and the studio revealled Fly, a promotional only single that frankly, is one of the best things i think Kyla has ever written. Raw, simple and building to a fantastic chorus and crescendo. It is simply not just a stand out track for the album, it's a stand out for 2014 music, and her own career.
Cut Your Teeth is most definitely a different beast from Ashes, which is a good thing. Anyone picking this up expecting Ashes Pt 2 will listen a little disappointed, of this i have no doubt. However, the key elements remain; the voice and lyrical/instrumental mastery that made Ashes so critically acclaimed. What works here is Producer Jacwob's knowledge of the electronic and Tech elements. this has taken Kyla, the band and their sound to another level in another place.
Opening with the lead single, Cut Your Teeth starts as it goes on, heart felt, dark lyrics crooned over deep, layered music that doesn't hurt from a 2nd or 3rd listen. Indeed, these repeats often generate a deeper appreciation of various tracks.
The album then bursts in to a heavier beat with Maia, a slightly quicker song concerning an unexpected break up. Unusual, but in a good way. It's nice to hear an almost dance-level-jumping track concerning such teenage upset, it's not often heard and is a nice, if slightly upsetting tune.
Alongside fly, Cannibals, stripped back and bare is the track from the album i think deserves the attention. Deep lyrics, layered but soft beats and melodies and the one that i think needs 3-4 plays to fully unravel. The lyrics and composition whilst bare, are most complex and really lift Kyla onto a pedestal for song writing. Absolutely outstanding.
I could go on all the way through really. Fly as i say is an astonishing track, another that i really think deserves a mention is the closing "Get It", which really feels as if more is to come by the end (and for those who snatch the Digital Release Deluxe Edition, there are). This, coupled with "The knife", which gets A* for bravery; Jamaican Steel Drums. Name me an artist that uses Jamaican Steel Drums; let alone an artist that uses them so prominently for a 2nd single. And as with all the tracks, its a beautiful listen.
Kyla ran a risk of becoming a one trick pony; soft vocals, dark lyrics and almost country beats with this second album. But a jump, and a brave jump at that to take a new track and experiment with composition, make up, sounds, hasn't jsut paid off, it's exploded into a great new chapter. Each track is so layered that the album doesn't get dull after 2-3 repeat listens, more and more reveals itself to the benefit of each offered song. No two tracks are alike, and the story of break up, friends lost and loneliness/misunderstood youth are explored expertly and with beautiful artistry.
The only nit pick i can have with the album is the lack of physical deluxe edition. But as a flaw, that's really scraping the barrel.
Cut Your Teeth deserves recognition, deserves publicising and deserves airtime.
I had reservations about her second album, and Kyla has proven them to be unfounded. Based on this mastery of music, Kyla can and should take her time with album 3; Cut Your Teeth will not be getting old or repetitive any time soon.