There is a fine balance to be struck in electronic music: it requires enough edginess to be interesting, yet excessive experimentation can have the potential to make it inaccessible. Låpsley’s (Holly Lapsley Fletcher) silky, minimalistic sound may not be the most stunningly unique, but her beautiful, light vocals and intelligent manipulation of space certainly draw the listener in. At just 18 years old, she has signed a deal with XL Recordings and earned a place on the BBC Sound of the Year 2015 long list. Understudy, her second EP, proves that this is just the start of her success, and that this gifted newcomer is one to watch.
Featuring four equally excellent tracks, Understudy makes a strong statement of Låpsley’s ability to craft elegant melodic contours against understated beats and lush synths, belying her classical training, pop sensibilities, and love for electronic artists like James Blake. The atmospheric spaciousness is rather reminiscent of The xx and is suffused with the warmth of her delicate voice. The lead single ‘Falling Short’ both comforts and haunts at once with its repetition of smooth piano chords and fragmentary lyrics. ‘Brownlow’ is the brightest of the four, its peppy synths and sparkling chorus offset by the low pitch-shifted “This is how I’m seeing us go”, adding a quirky, poignant touch. There is something curiously, viscerally affecting about the swelling and fluttering layers in ‘8896’, as if mirroring the patterned movement of the lungs and heart. This song is a perfect example of her skilful use of silence and space to stretch then satisfy the listener’s musical anticipation, be it in the little pauses between lyrics or the one-second gaps between sections. Despite its title, ‘Dancing’ is not quite one to groove to but might suitably accompany post-party blues. Its outcry of “I’ve always been an understudy/I know you would never love me” leads to a dark, sweeping crescendo which snaps back to the quietness of the verse just before its intensity overwhelms— a rather ingenious classical device evoking mental disturbance.
This is an album for the late nights and the bad nights, the kind that makes forgotten feelings resurface. It is quite incredible how much sophistication and emotion Låpsley manages to compress into 15 minutes – the album seems over almost before it has even started, though it easily withstands being played on loop for an hour or so of chilled out, comforting, pre-sleep vibes.
By Christine Tan