Review Summary: And behold, I heard an angel.
With three full-lengths under her belt, independent singer/songwriter Marie Hsiao is still anything but a household name. While she has managed to score modest success with digital marketing on YouTube and Amazon, her greatest achievement might have been catching the ear of Justin Vernon, who at one time helped to promote her music. But outside of that, it’s been a surprisingly quiet career for Hsiao, especially when you take into consideration that she has one of the most exquisite voices that you’ll ever hear. That could be about to change, as she has now wrapped up a brief tour with Novo Amor and is dropping her major label debut EP The Middle
– which showcases those otherworldly vocals like perhaps no other release in her catalog.
Compared to her previous body of work, The Middle
is by far the most ambient and atmospheric of the bunch. Earlier releases have gone more in-depth for folk (especially her debut Grow
) and have been more ambitious from a songwriting perspective (Winterwell
remains her benchmark), but this is the most beautiful she has ever sounded simply from an aesthetic standpoint. Marie’s vocals glide over a crystalline surface of echoing acoustics, often self-harmonizing to create mesmerizing atmospheres that wrap you up in the warmth of her delivery. There’s not a whole lot going on musically (again, there are better places in her discography to look for that), but if The Middle
represents her first major pop offering, then it’s a damn good one. The title track sounds like it could have fit in effortlessly on Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger In The Alps
, if you’re looking for a barometer of what to expect.
It’s fitting that the EP closes out with an instrumental piece, ‘Like a River’, to represent the versatility that she can still bring to the table. Major-label newcomers likely won’t have the frame of reference to compare this extended play to more ambitious past offerings like Winterwell
– which featured plenty of folk instrumentation and even some brass (‘Night Owls’) – so showing her creative chops on the closer helps to serve expectations moving forward. As it is, The Middle
is just a downright beautiful, pristinely produced ambient pop EP that should easily help get Mree’s name out there. It’s an important cause in its own right, because a voice this angelic should not exist underground.