Låpsley offers a mixed bag on Long Way Home

Long Way HomeLåpsley sees you. She sees your tired ideas, your pop mythology 30 years past its sell-by date; sees you peering past her for the man at the mixing desk. And the prodigious 19-year-old, Southport's most prominent post-dubstep auteur and yachting enthusiast, is calling you the fuck out. "You wouldn’t ask Caribou if he was a singer," she told the NME last year. "He'd be like, ‘No, I'm a producer and a writer and I sing in my tracks.’ I’m more than just the face at the front of a band." No one asks James Blake who produced his tracks, but they still ask Grimes. What Låpsley shares in common with both artists, whichever way you paint it, is that she's also a pop star.

Perhaps we're still cautious about bandying around a term that's long connoted the twinkling avatars of men like Irving Berlin and Burt Bacharach, but you watch the moment she turns to camera for the first time in the "Hurt Me" video and tell me what you'd call it. It's track two on Long Way Home and, like "Two Weeks" from XL labelmate FKA twigs' debut, features a synth-drenched chorus so utterly massive that it threatens to devour the rest of the album. It's not a sustainable pace for an album, and Låpsley is smart enough not to try: only "Love Is Blind" pitches for the same level of bombast near the end of the record, a classy power ballad in the Jessie Ware mould.

What's left in the space between is an assortment of genre experiments, and the results are mixed. "Station" is present, the early bedroom track that caught the attention of Annie Mac back in 2014, and it's still as beautifully sparse as ever. Where "Hurt Me" builds layer upon layer to form an emotional swell, "Station" pulls everything back to reveal a wound as tender as it is raw. Unfortunately it arrives after "Painter", which borrows the same template - big piano chords, small beats - to create something far less affecting. There are a few jazz-tinged moments, which should come as no surprise; Ella Fitzgerald's "In My Solitude", a Duke Ellington cover, left an indelible mark as a child, and she now has the words tattooed on her arm. The most egregious mis-step arrives on "Operator (He Doesn't Call Me)", which essentially sets "Please Mr. Postman" to a disco beat, and is exactly as bad as that sounds.

It's worth remembering that some of these tracks were written and recorded when she was still studying her A-Levels and messing around with Garageband in her bedroom, so the fact that we're left with such a kaleidoscopic debut is understandable. Nonetheless, the listener does pine for a certain amount of cohesion across the arc of an album, sadly lacking on Long Way Home, which often feels more like a double EP. Fittingly, the subject of long journeys and the distance they chart is a recurring lyrical theme on this record, running right up to "Seven Months", a track which closes the show in slightly underwhelming fashion. Låpsley's journey has only just begun, of course, and she has gifted us an album of subtle beauty and innovation that introduces her talents well enough. Next time, we'll hopefully find the artist a little more confident in her own direction.

Release: 4th March 2015, XL Recordings


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