The first time I heard Kate Earl’s single “Melody” I found her voice and style insatiable. I shared it with lots of friends, hoping to single-handedly make her a superstar. But I soon realized she didn’t need my help. Her talent was enough. A few months ago she put three songs from this new album Stronger on Noisetrade and I tweeted her about it. She replied. Achievement unlocked.
Seriously, this is a great album. It’s almost sneaky good. Every song I heard I thought “oh this is good” until I got to the end and thought, “actually this is a top album of the year candidate.” It’s subtle. It’s sweet. It makes you tap your toes and sing along, sometimes even on key. It’s pop. It’s fun. But Earl is not the stereotypical 21stcentury whining/screaming “diva” personality in pop music. She’s not the silly ditzy persona presented by Zoey Deschanel. Instead she’s confident, with a little whimsy, that comes across in a fun almost summertime album.
The title track “Stronger” comes across as an almost “country” tune, but it’s not. It’s fortuitous pop done really well. Earl’s vocals are highlighted and the band comes in well. The lyrics, focusing on resilience and the human spirit, is uplifting. This is what I’d call an “open road” song. There’s an inherent desire built into the rhythm and theme of the song to crank it up with the windows down. See what I mean? Summer music.
The second song on the album is an immediate contender for song of the year. “One Woman Army” channels Stevie Nicks. Even the guitars sound like they could be straight off of a Fleetwood Mac album. But what makes this song just so good is the independence of Earl’s vocals. “Gonna give you everything I ever had… love you and teach you good from bad… never gonna stop never gonna give up on you… no matter what I do.” It made me think this song is about motherhood. It’s an empowering song that, even as a guy, I find inspiring.
“Not the End of the World” is a pop song through and through. It’s also a pretty tough breakup song. “Don’t give me nothin’ but space.” It’s about that rough breakup in which the girl does not want anything to do with the guy. From her perspective, she tells him in no uncertain terms to stay out of her life. After all, it’s a breakup, not the end of the world. I can hear this song on numerous television shows, to say nothing about the ipods of millions of young ladies across the world.
Earl’s song “Raven” changes the pace a good bit from the rest of the album. Although it’s not actually “slower,” it has an introspective element. Similar to “One Woman Army” there’s another shade of Stevie Nicks on this one. The producers of this album did a particularly good job blending the background vocals on this track. The whole sound is extremely unified. It’s one of those tracks you know will never be as good as it is mixed here, perfectly through good headphones. A moment in musical time preserved for posterity and well balanced. Thanks for that, seriously.
“Wicked Love” shifts the album down a little, but with a sultry side. It’s about a relationship that she should not be in, but can’t help it. It’s about lust. It’s about regret. It encapsulates the complexity of a difficult but strangely addictive relationship. While this song will probably not make it into the top 40, there’s a real argument for the preservation of style that Earl has here. It’s old, but fresh.
Start to finish “Stronger” is a good album. I highlighted some of my favorites here, but there are a full 12 good tracks on the album. I have little “critical” to say about it honestly. It’s definitely not the folksy flair we typically write about on this site, but Earl’s pop chops are worth accenting here. Check out her free sampler courtesy of Noisetrade and see for yourself.