For several years, the music industry has been littered with artists whose songwriting is, to be polite, unimaginative, especially among mainstream acts. Artists are reverting to redundant choruses, and the vocabulary used would be extremely simple. There have been a several analysis lately that have found the lyrics in mainstream music to be equivalent to a third grader’s vocabulary or less.
But outside top-40 radio, there is truly something remarkable happening in music. The songwriting among many independent artists is increasingly becoming complex. And it isn’t the more well-established musicians who are leading the way. Instead, a wave of young singer-songwriters have helped to create music that not only captivates musically but also lyrically. Yesterday, we looked at Reservation’s fantastic debut full-length, where the sound and songwriting was mature beyond frontwoman Jana Horn’s early twenty-something years. Last week, twenty-three year-old Jessie Jones released her fantastic, eponymous debut album that was complex and dynamic. The record sounded like something a musician at least ten years Jones’ senior would have written.
Jones’ label mate, Pearl Charles, likewise, has released an EP that is to be celebrated. Like Jones, Charles is only 23-years old and has been long involved in the music industry. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from CalArts. She has performed as part of The Driftwood Singers, an Americana duo; the drummer for The Blank Tapes; and support for indie heavyweights Father John Misty, The Growlers, and Kim Deal.
After five years of studies, tours, and support projects, these vast experiences have culminated in the enthralling and awesome Pearl Charles. Although there are touches of these aforementioned bands and artists in her six-track debut, Charles channels the folk-rock of the ’70s, and comparisons to Joni Mitchell will be inevitable. Charles, however, adds her own spin to the genre with her smokey voice, psychedelic touches that add spine-tingling textures, and pop overtures that take the songs to near euphoric plateaus.
This is no more apparent than the spectacular “Idea to Her”, the finale to the album. Dreamy and mesmerizing, the song speaks of one person’s infatuation of another and how she has a dizzying effect on the individual. The song resonates with the brilliance of At Dawn-era My Morning Jacket, where with a deft and delicate touch everything comes perfectly together. The soothing plucks of the rhythm guitar, the fine sound of the slide guitar, the subtle pacing of the percussion, and Charles’ hallow vocals work in unison on this single that is one of the year’s best.
Whereas “Idea to Her” is hypnotic, the opening song, “Night & Day”, is a blistering opener. It sets the pace for the album with its hurried pace and catchy melodies. This leads into the dazzling, psychedelic groove of “You Can Change”, a song about second chances and new opportunities.
“Indian Burnout” is a gem. The most psychedelic and danceable track on the album, it scintillates with lush melodies and some terrific guitar work. The themes of lost and feeling scattered permeate on this delirious number. “I Ran So Far” is a breathtaking, driving song about a game of cat and mouse. It is enshrouded in roots and even a touch of western to add a bit of more dramatic flair. The cinematic nature of Pearl Charles’ music continues with the excellent “What Can I Do”. Still maintaining the folk-rock approach with dashes of pop, western and psychedelia, Charles expresses her deep desires to make amends with another as well as to find redemption.
The album, though, isn’t one of renewal or even new beginnings for Pearl Charles. Instead, it just another chapter in the young singer-songwriter’s already remarkable career. This time, though, she’s doing it alone and making her name for herself, one that will in the not-so-distant future be uttered in the same breath as Father John Misty, The Growlers, and one day Joni Mitchell.
Pearl Charles is out now via Burger Records. Get it at the label’s store, iTunes, and Amazon.
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