Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Album Review: "No Romeo" by Indiana

A moody female pop singer is nothing new. However, when the music they make has so much depth and ingenue with the laconic quality that Indiana has cultivated throughout her debut album, you can't help but take notice. Lauren Henson, aka Indiana popped up on my radar early in 2014 when her single "Solo Dancing" somehow worked its way into my head. Normally, my gut reaction to songs determine how much I listen to them. And I admit, I did not like the song at first.

In some ways, it was too simple for me to understand why it was such a big deal. With only a handful of lyrics repeated over a minimal electro beat that wasn't particularly danceable at first, "Solo Dancing" was challenging every convention I had for pop song. But after another ten listens, it was clear that this young lady knew a couple of things about music that I had never even considered. The lack of lyrics made way for multiple interpretations of relying on oneself for entertainment and the synth riff in the middle of the song had to be a revolutionary moment in music on its own.

Somehow, Indiana managed to make me rethink how to even consider judging her music. In that way, she seemed to accomplish what every popstar should do: polarize their audience and set them apart form everyone out there. And surprisingly, it looked like it might have worked for a while when Solo Dancing reached the top 15 in the UK! She certainly exceeded everyone's expectations and it looked as though she would follow other dark pop singers like Hurts and Lana Del Rey to stardom.

Indiana as a popstar was certainly something of miracle as well. First off, she is a mother of two from Nottingham. Without knowing this fact, she appeared to be one of the most striking singers out at the moment, an almost feral face and indie styling, but careful about her presentation as a mysterious entertainer. She was only there when she wanted you to notice her. Her earlier songs had a strong point of view, both sonically and visually, with Solo Dancing being the last single to challenge the traditional song structure. In some ways, this might have explained why her next single, the fantastic "Heart On Fire", failed to really impact the charts.

The Robyn-esque single highlighted Indiana's ability to turn the tables and become the popstar I had been hoping she would be at the beginning. Looking back, this may not have been the best thing as her minimal noir pop stylings had put her in a league of her own. However, listening to her debut album, I can assure you that Indiana solidifies her status as the pop princess of the dark that made you fall in love with her and subsequently made one of the best albums of 2015.

No Romeo is a collection of gritty, icy electronica that seems to accomplish the understated sound that Indiana has worked on for so long. There is hardly any comparison that can be made to another collection of work with the same mystifying quality in its silence. From the the sinister musings of fairy tale murder anthem "Jack" to the exhaustion and melancholy of "Play Dead," we certainly see Indiana playing with morbid imagery and misleading lyrics that will let you find something new in each song every time you listen.

Indiana doesn't need the dramatics to catch your attention. For starters, most of the songs involve soft cooing and conversational singing on Indiana's parts, with the opener "Never Born" being the only sign of any loudness on the album. The songs slowly brood along before suddenly exploding with a synthy guitar phrase like in "Solo Dancing" or the excellent highlight "Bound." There is a little bit of magic in Indiana's voice during those moments when she decides to quietly declare "Don't push me, because I'm close to the edge" on "Heart On Fire" or the apathetic intro of anti-love anthem "No Romeo."

The cohesion of the songs, certain to be caused by Indiana's frequent collaborator and main producer John Beck, only helps to solidify Indiana's sound and prevent her from losing sight of what No Romeo represents. The only fault found on the album is the excessive use of this darkness in "Mess Around" that can only be explained as a new artist trying a little too hard. Unlike the efforts of other minimal pop singers, such as Lorde and Kyla La Grange's albums that seemed too intent on staying on one sonic path, Indiana quickly recovered by introducing the warm and hopeful "Only The Lonely".

With the simple addition of this one song, Indiana proves that she can take the listener on a journey of sounds that keep them surprised. And in that, it seems as though she has come full circle by being the surprise hit that no really thought could make it. There is a lot to love in this nocturnal album of icy sadness and bitterness. Pop doesn't necessarily have to be the happiest place on earth and as Indiana herself states, the "beautiful psychosis" that she displays across all 19 tracks on No Romeo can be just as romantic as any other love song.

Best Listened: While taking a bath in the dark, brooding over personal issues
Best Songs: "Solo Dancing" "Heart On Fire" "Only The Lonely" "Bound"
NSOTP Rating: 9.0/10

Buy No Romeo on iTunes (if you're in the UK, otherwise Amazon it)
Indiana on Facebook
Indiana on Twitter
Indiana on Soundcloud

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