By now you might have heard of British singer-songwriter V.V. Brown. As is typical with many non-American artists, Brown became a buzz act long before she finally issued her debut LP, which is barely making its way stateside. The release of Travelling Like the Light almost feels anticlimactic in this era when downloads make artists instantly accessible regardless of geography. The singles and their videos have been on every possible blog for the last year, so you already know many of these tracks. Yet Travelling Like the Light is a success, because it’s not about shocking you with a bombastic arrival. These 12 songs are homages to some of the last decade’s best genre-bending, pop-crafting artists and are meant to get stuck in your head, not change your view on the world.
At times, Brown’s most obvious contemporary is Amy Winehouse, who is a fitting comparison at times but by no means her primary influence (especially on tracks “Crazy Amazing” and “Leave!”). Whereas Winehouse plays her role as Phil Spector protégé who swigs whiskey and spits it in your face, Brown puts the edge in the song’s production, not her attitude. At her most confrontational, such as on the opener “Quick Fix”, she sounds like The Go! Team joined forces with 1950s surf rockers. And much like The Go! Team experience, Brown’s shouts don’t scare you– they make you want to shout back with a smile.
However, the album’s best tracks find Brown giving in to slick pop production and Top 40 vocals. On “Shark in the Water”, one of the album’s catchiest singles, an irresistible guitar riff drives the verses until a fleshed out full band and boisterous Brown explode on the chorus as she sings, “Baby there’s a shark in the water/there’s something underneath my bed/oh, please believe I said/Baby there’s a shark in the water.” The candy-coated R&B tune “Bottles” is an example of why strong vocalists shouldn’t be afraid of toning down their theatrics. Brown sounds self-assured as a woman who’s professing her love with a sneer. She compares her new man to the only bottle left on the wall, which isn’t quite as sweet as it sounds once she’s listed off all the bottles she’s discarded over the years. Her voice is on the same plane as the music, and at times even a little lower, but the matter-of-fact presentation is perfect. In a lesser artist’s hands, she’d be laying the sass on so thick our speakers would be clogged.
“Everybody” is a bona fide club track that does Matthew Herbert proud. It features pianos, synths, and percussion that sound like they were tracked live, not pieced together by a producer looking to form a hit. The whole album gives off the vibe of a tight live act that finally decided to cut an LP, and much of that credit goes to producers Steve Dub, Jeremy Wheatley, and Brown. Travelling, from start to finish, displays Brown as a true talent here to have fun.
Once you step back and take in the whole album, you realize Brown has the same schizophrenic energy of Of Montreal, only she’s focusing on an accessible range of sounds rather than the experimental forays of Barnes and company. Still, she’s willing to throw pop punk, Top 40, acoustic rock, and R&B against the wall and see what sticks. The songs each work on their own, and they mostly work together. The weakest element of Travelling is its sequencing. The mellow and less whimsical title track closes the LP, but without any similar sound on the record, it feels as if Brown wants to prove she’s a serious artist before making her exit. The track belongs as an opener so that the momentum of the record stays intact.
Travelling Like the Light proves Brown is worth the hype, even if we’re delayed in finally get to hear her work. One listen to the album and you’ll know you’re listening to an artist who’s in control of her sound and will continue to make music worth listening to. The less certain aspect of Brown’s career is whether or not she’ll have the studio backing to make another album in the future. The past has shown that pop acts willing to dabble in so many genres are often deemed too difficult to market for labels. Here’s hoping that this Internet era makes it easier for us to hear Brown, whether or not she gets the attention she deserves.