The Lowdown: Alice Phoebe Lou is somewhat of a real-life sprite, a roaming, wanderlust-filled musician who spent her formative years on a mountainside in South Africa. After an insatiable urge propelled her to travel around Europe, she began busking on the streets of Paris and Amsterdam in order to continue to explore. Lou eventually found herself in Berlin, which became the creative mecca in which her musical career took off. And she’s settled a bit now, or at least enough to release her new full-length album, Paper Castles.
The Good: For the duration of 10 songs, Paper Castles forces listeners into an ephemeral calm. Lou’s voice is equal parts haunting and intoxicating; it resembles what I presume a siren sounded like for wandering Greek travelers. Her voice carries across the album as though being carried by the wind, sometimes whipping around and growling or crying out. And what that voice is saying is no less powerful. Lou’s topics interweave natural phenomenons with more classical tropes like love, heartbreak, etc. On “Fynbas”, she questions whether she’s still a child among the treetops, saying, “Nothing has made me quite as happy as my home among the trees” in a sullen whisper.
Paper Castles does not easily fit into a genre; just when you’re tempted to classify it as a folk album, elements of blues or techno jump out and entirely complicate things. This is due, in part, to Lou’s ability to capitalized on her international perspective. She uses the mesmerizing beats of a Berlin nightclub to corrupt the album’s underlying organic and rustic sound. She recreates these natural sounds using synth and technology, creating a confusing and delightful paradox. It’s safe to say that Lou might be the next member of Florence Welch and Maggie Rogers’ Witch Club.
The Bad: It’s clear that Lou has found — and mastered — her sound. But over the course of 10 tracks, that sound doesn’t vary all that much. The songs, though constructed beautifully, are resoundingly similar: six other tracks stand between “Nostalgia” and “New Song”, yet they both take us to the same place and land us at the same ending point. Because of this, the record can feel redundant, especially when listening from start to finish. There’s no doubt that it’s a cohesive project, but it could use a touch of variety to keep the listener engaged.
The Verdict: If you’re looking for an album to listen to while pretending you’re in an indie flick, Paper Castles is the one. What it lacks in sonic diversity, it makes up for with an equalizing, undoubtedly meditative aura that creates an exceptionally enjoyable listening experience. Lou has created an album that encompasses who she is completely, finding the musical sweet spot between Berlin and Cape Town.
Essential Tracks: “Something Holy”, “Skin Crawl”, and “Little Sparks”
Buy: Pick up Alice Phoebe Lou on vinyl here.