Monday, February 15, 2016

All I Need | Foxes

It's becoming increasingly difficult to recount the jagged career trajectory of English singer-songwriter Foxes. After she became an overnight sensation as the voice of Zedd's "Clarity" and grabbed a Grammy for the track a few years ago, she turned her focus to her solo career. The launch of her debut album, Glorious, faltered after having its release delayed, but the set still managed to spawn three top 20 singles and to scratch silver status in the United Kingdom. Her follow-up, titled All I Need, has been served an even more frustrating release, with the momentum of the album's announcement and accompanying promotion blitz being killed by a label-initiated release delay.

Fortunately, though, the mismanagement doesn't at all affect the integrity of her album's evident quality.

All I Need, while a move in a different direction, reaffirms that Foxes cannot be pigeon-holed into one genre -- unless it is one of her own; billed as pop with an indie core and its own set of sonic idiosyncrasies, Glorious, too, was hard to pin down. Sure, it's pop, but her wide range of influences very clearly affects the cultivation of her sound, which sometimes takes a gospel turn, sometimes an electronic feel, sometimes a bombastic pop approach, and sometimes a disco tinge. The best part? She can execute every style with precision.

The only dense, synth-soaked track of the album, lead single "Body Talk," is a neon-lit, '80s dance floor filler. Its sound is just a stone's throw away from what made Carly Rae Jepsen's E•MO•TION one of the most memorable albums of last year -- but whereas Jepsen's album is a crisp and cutesy homage, "Body Talk" takes a gritty, sexy edge that seems more authentic to the era she channels. It and "Cruel," a bouncy little track, are the only tracks on the album that feel as if they've been produced with the synthpop sensibility that flourished on her debut.

Everywhere else, this album is actually very much organic, zeroing in on her voice. While they lack the ambiance and slight vocal imperfections of Lana Del Rey or Alabama Shakes' most recent records, which gave the impressions of being recorded live and in just a few takes, tracks like "If You Leave Me Now," "Devil Side," and "Scar" lend themselves to mental images of Foxes recording vocals in the same room as the acoustic instruments playing underneath her. Even at her most climatic, on what is indubitably the best track of her discography, "Amazing," the production feels natural and uninhibited, yet not overwhelming.

Perhaps most refreshingly, this album feels wholehearted -- not gimmicky or rushed. She takes pop music back to the basics, with vocal sampling and synthesized sideshows kept to a minimum. Resonating from the chest, her voice bleeds emotion and grasps the attention it deserves with ease, even when competing against strings, keys, guitars, and drums for sonic space. She soars over a chorus of Dan Smith's (warmly welcomed) voice on "Better Love," begging for listeners to belt the anthemic chorus right along with her. On both "If You Leave Me Now" and "On My Way," her voice pleads yet still leads the way; the strings and keys swell upon her command, not vice versa.

The execution of emotion makes this album something special; these songs would be nothing without the voice. Each song tells a separate story of love, regret, or longing, and Foxes wears her heart not on her sleeve, but on her vocal cords. Once again, she veers from the original blueprint that she set for herself on her debut, which allows this album to stride against the dense, overproduced, synth-heavy grain that we've come to love. If it had been released even 15 years ago, the album wouldn't be nearly as refreshing as it is in today's musical landscape -- but luckily, we're living in the now.

The biggest disappointment here, besides the fact that the deluxe edition tracks weren't included on the standard pressing, doesn't even have anything to do with the album itself -- it is easily the mishandling of Foxes' American career after her overnight success. "Clarity" is the biggest that Foxes will ever balloon Stateside, voiding the chance for a large audience to tap further into an immense talent that most will forever write off as a quick-lived shooting star on the Billboard charts. Through this album, the artistry speaks for itself and demands attention: let's just hope that more people listen.

All I Need is out now under Sign of the Times and RCA Records.

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