London – Depending on where you live Light Up The Dark could be the second album from British songstress Gabrielle Aplin, or the first. Oddly her 2013 debut, “English Rain”, which came on the back of her sweetly sensitive cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “The Power of Love” for the 2012 John Lewis [department store] Christmas TV ad here in the UK, was never released in the US. Either way the new record is a very black and white affair indeed, from the moody cover art to the solemn titles of many of the songs and their heartfelt sentiments. Those investing in a CD copy, however, may need a magnifying glass to read the lyrics.
So far as you might expect a continuation of Aplin’s debut acoustically grounded style, fueled by some bleaker experiences; indeed something very much like the beautifully poignant record her fellow Brighton resident, Kate Walsh, put out in 2009 with a similar title, Light & Dark. What you get though is more uplift than sorrow and a showcase for a maturing artist who has learnt more of her craft on the road and broadened horizons through travel. The upshot is a songwriter who can take hold of other people’s experiences as well as her own.
Those familiar four descending chords that begin the title track opener soon develop into something fresher and multi-layered, powered by a strong melody and chorus, while images of pleasure in pain and name checks for the Devil feed desire: “I wanna be the one to light up the dark in you”. As the album unfolds it is increasingly clear that Aplin is aiming for a variety of approachs to her music. With the aid of guitarist/producer Luke Potashnick and some trusted musicians, including her boyfriend Alfie and his brother Harry who make up Irish rock/folk duo Hudson Taylor, she has discarded the over-worked route of engaging X number of hip producers or collaborators to work on individual tracks for a more organic, honest and ultimately rewarding methodology. That’s not to say there are not songwriting collaborations here but they are kept much more within the family, so to speak.
There’s a slight sense that Aplin is trying too hard to shift that ‘Power of Love’ mantle as she skates across styles over the first four tracks, for example, taking in resonant piano and brass stabs on “Skeleton” and Florence-like flourishes on “Slip Away” so the precise country-rock drive of “Sweet Nothing” comes as a welcome short breather. “You think you understand me but / I don’t even understand me / And Oh I feel alone” is the singer’s riposte to false assertions.
“Hurt” reprises something more akin to her debut sound and provides a welcome foil to the rockier stuff, while the stripped-back blues of “Heavy Heart” seems especially suited to the singer’s core vocal range which at times is pushed more to its extremity on the record. The singalong pop of “What Did You Do” seems oddly placed as the penultimate song but it serves at least to display yet another trick in the singer’s hand. The final listed track “A While” sets the seal on an eclectic mix; a wonderful torch song lit up by an impassioned vocal with no recourse to any of the earlier histrionics. It leads into a bonus track which you could easily miss as there is quite a gap between the last advertised song. The spacey “Don’t break Your Heart On Me” has a touch of Laura Marling and Joni Mitchell about it.
Still aged just 22, the lasting impression you get from this record is that there is plenty more to come from Gabrielle Aplin.
For more on Gabrielle Aplin visit her website.
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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