While pop music is characterized by its glossy sheen, artists’ best work often happens when they accidentally let their roughness show. Take the new self-titled EP from New York-based singer-songwriter Aimee Bayles, for instance. Although the first four tracks are charming and catchy (bolstered by lush piano and string arrangements from Nat Osborn), the record’s strongest moment is closer “Breathing”. Here, we see all of the sugary orchestration stripped away, leaving us with nothing but the offbeat strums of Bayles’ creaky guitar and her wounded alto. “I’m breathing hard for you,” she cries in a voice tinged by just the right amount of rasp. The song is characterized by sparseness and flaws (the rhythm of the vocals and guitar never quite match up), and that’s what makes it work. There’s something real and palpable there–the sound of a woman who’s not afraid to viscerally yearn for someone.
The preceding four tunes, while musically memorable, never reach the raw emotional sincerity of “Breathing”, mostly due to a vagueness found in the lyrics. Phrases like “I only wish that you could see the beauty in your face” from bubbly opener “I Only Wish” certainly aren’t bad, but they don’t call any specific images or immediately relatable sentiments to mind either.
That being said, Bayles is still able to paint evocative sonic environments thanks to her pipes, which are armed with a crystalline vibrato that’s able to bend between music hall clarity and a broken whisper in the same track. She’s also got an ace team of session musicians on her side. Slow-burner “February” is jazzed up by Matt Rybicki’s stand-up bass, while “Long Dark Road” is given a twinge of country nostalgia by Mike Haziza’s slide guitar. Overall, Aimee Bayles’ EP is an impressive debut but one that could be slightly more transcendent if the lyrics were as fleshed out as the instrumentation. Either way, she’s an artist to watch.