Rose Elinor Dougall has long grown out of her days as a vocalist for the girl group The Pipettes, singing about how they’re “the prettiest girls you’ve ever met.” As a solo artist, she showed a more mature side of herself in her 2010 acclaimed debut ‘Without Why’, retaining only the indie-ness of her former group, as well as noticeable influences from Blondie and Fleetwood Mac to The Horrors. Throughout the years, she quietly grew that sound with a few EPs, but until recently, as a vocalist for Mark Ronson’s touring band, her personality had been in the shadows. On her sophomore LP, the London-based singer-songwriter delivers a set of sweet, heartfelt synth-pop tunes that contain a bracing amount of emotional richness and poetic lyrics.
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Some of the songs are driven by dreamy guitars with distinct and memorable melodies accompanied by synths, evoking the cosmic quality suggested by the album’s title, and balanced out by crisply played bass and drums. Dream-pop opener ‘Colour of Water’ creates a sense of sonic vastness with its driving melody complemented by Dougall’s lustrous vocals, as the lyrics reflect a constant state of disordered instability, of moving closer and faster, appearing and disappearing, becoming invisible. The musically similar ‘Strange Warnings’ takes this further; in the absence of light the feeling is amplified, transformed into paranoia and anxiety. During the bridge, the drum pattern breaks, as layers of disorienting vocals and synths echo; without the conventional pop structures withholding it, the feeling of chaotic confusion is, for a few seconds, laid bare, before again containing itself. The slower-paced, spacey ‘Take Yourself with You’ is sweet and introspective, as the singer yearns for intimacy. “Your face comes to me in the strangest sunbeam/ A dusty distant silhouette through the haze of a foreign heat,” Dougall sings, mirroring how the listener receives the album’s emotional confessions.
The album isn’t without upbeat tracks, but they, too, uncover insecurities. Lead single ‘Stellular’, a seemingly straightforward yet cleverly written love song, has a dance-able rhythm and memorable chorus. In the bridge the singer turns to herself, repeating “Stop giving yourself away”. At times poetic ambivalence gives its way to directly expressed, unfiltered desire: “Cold morning approaches/ Will you, won’t you/ Come closer to me”, Dougall sings on ‘Closer’. This is amplified on the disco-influenced ‘All at Once’, the closest the album gets to revealing raw emotion, where she cries, with a noticeably darker, gothic tone, “give me everything black and blue”.
In direct contrast, the ballad-like songs are more reflective and consistently beautiful. The standout piano-driven track ‘Poison Ivy’ laments lost loves and meditates on how the past haunts her. At other times she points directly at the other lover, like on ‘Answer Me’, where she lays out doubts and questions about love drifting away, demanding an answer. Interestingly, the next track, ‘Dive’, features male vocals by Oil Bayston of Boxed In (who also produced the album), as if that other person now appears, but does not directly respond; the duet works great, the one person alluring the other into escaping with her.‘Wanderer’ is a perfect closer; at the end of it all, the singer has grown weary, and declares, “There are no more questions.”
There might still be a lack of distinctiveness, but the album is coherent, compelling, and consistently confident enough to suggest the singer-songwriter is not far from achieving it.
‘Stellular’ is out now via Piccadilly Records.