Release Date: Mar 4, 2016
Record label: XL
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
In just over a year, Holly Låpsley Fletcher has become XL’s alternative to Adele. Swapping sixth form studies for her real passion of singing, writing and producing music, the 19-year-old’s mature debut is an autobiographical “art project”.‘Love Is Blind’ and ‘Hurt Me’, full of epic drums, pianos and anthemic choruses, are subtle but stadium-ready tearjerkers, while ‘Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me’) is a meditation on the struggles of a long distance relationship disguised as a disco number.Both ‘Station’ and ‘Painter’ – originally recorded by messing around with GarageBand, a cheap keyboard and a £90 microphone – are icy and haunting, but ‘Falling Short’ is the real heartbreaker. .
On her faultless debut EP ‘Understudy’, Låpsley gave the impression of someone getting used to new territory. Early tracks with XL’s in-house producer Rodaidh McDonald were sparse but sharp pop songs, informed by club culture, but not in a highbrow way. These tracks had the same spirit as someone scoring a fake ID and discovering a city at night.
Holly Låpsley Fletcher is a young singer-songwriter-producer from Liverpool whose wisdom and proficiency transcend her 19 years of age. Sharing the same label and silky powerhouse vocals as Adele has resulted in frequent comparisons to the world's biggest-selling artist, but Låpsley is a self-made artist. Unlike Adele's 25, there's no throng of professional songwriters pitching in on Long Way Home; every track was written, produced and engineered (with a little help from XL in-house producer Rodaidh McDonald) by Låpsley herself.Though she's only been a professional songwriter for a few years, Låpsley is a pro at stirring up deep, flooding emotions using very little.
Despite making her name, initially, with spectral, minimalist bedroom productions, Liverpudlian artist Låpsley explores new territory on her debut Long Way Home. The tracks that earned the attention of her home city’s GIT (Get Into This) Award – Station, Painter – are present and correct, nestled in among aspiring pop ballads (Hurt Me, Love Is Blind) and ambient piano soul (Falling Short, Silverlake), all linked by her strong diva vocal and well crafted lyrics. It’s the surprise 60s soul hit, Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me), that stands out as a real graduation of her sound.
At 19 years old, Holly Lapsley Fletcher is stuck in the gray area between childhood and adulthood. Well, “gray” isn’t really the word for it. Really it’s more of a technicolor area, a time when the creative energies of youth converge with a deeper understanding of the tools of expression, a time when even the air seems electric with potentiality.
The cover art of Long Way Home depicts Låpsley in an embittered stare down with empty space: head tilted back ever-so-slightly, her gaze charges into the same vast whiteness that seems to envelop her body, the angles and shadows of her face all converging into the laser-point longitude tunneled out from her retinas. It’s as if this gaze has somehow assumed a sentience of its own, compelling her features—eyes, nose, lips, chin—to follow it into the monochromatic void staring back at them. It’s an instructive image, for Long Way Home isn’t so much about the act of gazing as it is about gazes themselves, disconnected from the subjects they emanate from and given fleeting melodic form.
Stop a music fan on the street, and ask them to name just one female producer: chances are, they’ll struggle. From major label gurus DJ Snake and Skrillex, to independents of choice Jamie xx and Jakwob, the music industry is often painfully ignorant of female production talent. This might wrongly lead you to assume female producers simply don’t exist, but that’s not the case – they just often lack recognition.
Kids today, eh? At an age when most 17 year olds spend their time taking unfortunate Snapchats and experimenting with all kinds of illicit substances, young Holly Lapsley Fletcher was sat in her Merseyside bedroom writing and recording songs with the help of a laptop and some startling vocal effect trickery. Two years later, such diligence has paid off with the release of her debut album, Long Way Home. Låpsley (as she’s now known, with that Scandinavian-style ring added to the ‘a’ in her middle name) is a difficult artist to pigeonhole – at times, she seems to be aiming towards Adele‘s global success, while at others she’s more than happy to noodle around in a James Blake fashion.
On her full-length debut Long Way Home, Holly Lapsley Fletcher, who performs as Låpsley, positions herself in the James Blake sector of the English indie electronic realm, offering emotional heft alongside a slow-gliding, piano-led atmosphere. Unlike some of her more ambient peers and with an eye toward mainstream pop, her vocals are mixed high throughout, delivering rhythmically active melodies via a melismatic style that's reminiscent of Adele. Speaking of Adele, the ballad "Hurt Me" -- a Top Ten hit in the U.K.
Longing is an emotion generated by absence, which makes it tricky to convey well in pop songs. When rendered with economy, on a song like Madonna's "Live to Tell," longing becomes part of the atmosphere, something unspoken that is too subtle and subatomic to see. When it's blown up to become the only feeling a in a song, it becomes alienating: Adele songs, for example, sometimes feel like vast deserts of longing in which she is the sole inhabitant.
Holly Lapsley Fletcher is an artist on XL who doesn’t sound much like an artist on XL, the hip UK label that is often home to edgy talent, as well as the White Stripes, passim. She’s not much like FKA twigs, or newer signings such as Kaytranada (a Haitian-Canadian hip-hop producer) or Empress Of (a Brooklyn indie-pop R&B siren). She’s more like the last XL signing who sounded little like an XL act: Adele.
The lady James Blake is here in the form of 19-year-old Låpsley, who is from Merseyside but has confusingly added an accent to her name – perhaps to suggest she could just as easily have crafted her minimal electronic ballads in a Scandinavian log cabin. The familiar post-dubstep hallmarks – minor-key piano, handclaps, pitched-down vocal samples – tastefully cradle her superb, if slightly affected, Adele-sounding voice as it delivers her girl-alone-in-the-world bedroom songs. In fact, these are just the kind of neo-pop touches her superstar labelmate would probably have liked to try on her last album, instead of having to resort to the same old monochrome lung-busters.
Låpsley, aka Holly Lapsley Fletcher, has been called a prodigy. Indeed, the 19-year-old Brit's sophisticated voice, emotive songwriting and first-rate production skills belie her young age. Now, her XL debut album confirms that the early praise was warranted. Comparisons to labelmate Adele have been plentiful.
Several songs seem to feature a guest male singer, but it’s actually Låpsley cleverly shifting the pitch of her own voice. Even without studio trickery, her voice is a versatile instrument – capable of both Adele-style stridency on ‘Hurt Me’ and ‘Love Is Blind’ and a delicate breathiness with echoes of Dusty Springfield on ‘Painter’. Her lyrics document the toll recording sessions in London and LA – where she worked with The xx and Savages producer Rodaidh McDonald – took on her relationship.
An early interview with Bido Lito! back in 2014 saw Låpsley seemingly startled by the scale of the reaction to the haunting, pitch-shifted “Station”, as she retreated from the music industry scrum trying to coax a signature out of her to finish school and potentially study geography at uni. Two years later, much has changed: she swerved all the cash-flapping majors to instead sign with XL, and her surprise at the reaction to "Station" has morphed into outright condemnation of music industry “bullshit” and the condescending portrayal of young people and female solo artists. Long Way Home, then, is evidence that she's found her voice in more ways than one; a voice that's chillingly honest and as distinctive as the lost fragments of club music that surround it.