Idalee – Starting Now
Idalee’s debut 7-track EP, Starting Now, is a good start for sure, and awe inspiring. For years Topher Hall (Idalee’s real name) struggled with addiction and his rock bottom was an alcohol- and cocaine-fueled car crash from which he narrowly escaped a prison sentence. Starting Now is a lyrically-dense alt rock album about the second chance and new beginnings he’s been granted.
The EP was produced by Ethan Kauffman and mixed by Will Briere, known for his work with The Killers and Imagine Dragons. In addition to Briere’s work with Imagine Dragons, Idalee cites the group as one of his major influences and it’s obvious. Idalee’s songs are certainly not the huge arena-filling, thumping anthems of Imagine Dragons but the similarity is there with the focus on lyrics layered over heavy percussion and synth.
The background music and electronic effects generally do not add to the overall mood of the album. The album’s opening line, on the title track “Starting Now,” sounds like its being sung in an echoing bathroom. Not in a haunting, ethereal way like Jim James in his cover of “All Things Must Pass,” but in a way that’s annoying and unnecessary. On the final track, “Home” Idalee seems to finally have gotten the hang of background harmonies, because the beautiful female background vocals are flawless and blend perfectly with Idalee’s voice and the instruments.
Just as the music seems at times ineffectual, so to do the lyrics seem a bit contrived.
In “Some Day” Idalee declares that “together we find we already had what mattered.” A decent sentiment, but I just don’t buy it. The music doesn’t match the words and neither does his manner of singing. With this subject matter I would expect Idalee’s voice to be earnest, tender, and heartfelt, yet throughout the EP his tone is frankly a bit annoying. He can sing, sure, but its a voice I don’t really want to listen to. The fourth track, “Tree Got Rain,” opens with “the fog it will lift out of the city it kissed/ the sun will flow into windows like glue.” The poetic lyrics are at odds with the simplistic repetitive beat in the background. Lyrics like that are best sung with minimal stringed instruments, a simple melody to enhance the meaning of the lyrics not detract from it.
Idalee’s music is reflective, searching, and intimate. Idalee’s voice is a bit self-conscious, not as honest and open as it could be, and the synth is a bit too cumbersome for the subject matter. Nevertheless, the tunes and percussion and repetitive lyrics are catchy. Even if I don’t necessarily want to, I find myself bobbing my head and singing along. “Starting Now” is a good start, and I’d like to hear what Idalee can do in the future. He is heartfelt, if only the lyrics and his delivery could be a bit more genuine, I’d believe it more.
Review by Justine Rowe