Review Summary: Progress in motion from one of the year's key newcomers.
At the time of writing, the BBC is slowly unfurling its Sound of 2015, for which Holly Lapsley Fletcher is among the nominees. Something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, the annual poll presents the public with the great and good of emerging musical talent, before screaming "told you so" when their exposure and web of contacts result in its eventual victor becoming totally and inescapably massive. Naturally, they favour the inoffensive and commercially viable - hence my conviction that beige-faced twat-in-a-hat James Bay will top this year's pile, and if there's one guarantee, it's that this prodigiously gifted Liverpudlian won't be challenging him.
That isn't to suggest Lapsley's music is impenetrable, or obscure at all, for that matter. Mixing a classical upbringing with her love of contemporary musicians such as James Blake, the 18-year-old's approach to bedroom electronica is, in many ways, that of a traditional pen-in-hand songwriter. It's a stance which has shone a light on her rapid progress in the past year or so, and already reaped rich rewards; not least a deal with independent heavyweights XL and a smattering of Radio 1 airtime only months after completing her A-levels. More than anything else, though, this route has highlighted her quest for a distinct sonic identity, and while this debut EP finds her still honing in on the desired base the effect even at this early stage is one of remarkable potency.
Bearing a gloriously intimate late-night vibe, Understudy
is a record designed to be enjoyed in solitude; the type of setting where stark piano, discreet synths and minimal beats are granted the space to breathe and spread their spellbinding allure. There are times when it's eerie, as on lead single 'Falling Short' and the equally reverent 'Dancing,' both of which utilise a distant, seemingly masculine vocal manipulation tool; but as dazzling standout 'Brownlow' shows it's also capable of exuding an extreme warmth, scaling intense euphoric crests without ever falling into hackneyed or formulaic conventions.
It's a gripping premise, and even in 15 meager minutes it's hard not to fantasise over where it'll lead her for the rest of the year and beyond. What's worth noting, though, is that while fellow Sound of... nominees straggle and become submerged in hyperbole, Lapsley has come out and pitched her flag early. True, it won't win her the BBC gong, or the subsequent slots at major sports events and Strictly Come Dancing, yet within 2015's barren first week the depth and focus of Understudy
have already established her as something quite exceptional. Buy it, tell your friends and revel in your short-lived taste-making repute. This girl won't be bubbling beneath the surface for long.