Review Summary: Really solid indie pop that's just begging for a more unique and original approach.
What kind of music would you expect from an artist who routinely calls herself a “music makin’ ginger nutcase” in interviews and performances? Indeed, this is what Irish singer-songwriter Orla Gartland has dubbed herself; however, just going by her musical output, I’m not sure how accurate the “nutcase” part is. You can get a much better read on her style from the influences she often cites, chief among them being Joni Mitchell, Regina Spektor, and Imogen Heap. And much like her fellow collaborator Dodie, Gartland started her music career by garnering a Youtube following; as of a few months ago, her videos have reached over 20 million views. But don’t be too fooled by the comparison to Dodie. Despite playing a similar brand of indie pop/rock, Gartland brings a more outgoing and less subdued take on the sound on her debut album Woman on the Internet
In fact, of the three influences I mentioned above, Regina Spektor easily has the biggest impact on the material found on this record. A lot of Gartland’s vocals exhibit the same balance of quirkiness and emotion that Spektor practically trademarked in her heyday, and many of the instrumental bits follow suit. And yet, Gartland often takes this inspiration in some very interesting directions. In fact, I was pretty surprised at the off-kilter rhythm that opened up the first track “Things That I’ve Learned”. A minimalistic 5/4 beat sets the tone as Gartland comes in with vocals that could best be described as confident and emotive, exhibiting a level of charisma you don’t often hear on a debut record. The singer’s personality even extends to the song titles themselves, with such tracks as “Zombie!” and “You’re Not Special, Babe”. But let’s be real here: the album as a whole isn’t too
weird or anything. Eventually it falls into the patterns of typical singer-songwriter fare, even with the little quirks surrounding the music.
Where the record really shines, however, is in its use of dynamics. The best word I could use to describe the approach of Woman on the Internet
is “panoramic”. Gartland has a great knack for turning simple pieces into more diverse affairs at the drop of a hat. For instance, check out the progression of “More Like You”; the song begins with a light keyboard taps as Gartland sets the scene lyrically. But something as simple as the addition of peppy drum work is enough to dramatically change the song’s pace in the second verse, even as the other instruments don’t really change course. It’s the subtle things like this that can transform an easygoing pop song into something more exciting; other examples include the juxtaposition between somber keyboards and explosive guitars in “Over Your Head”, as well as the way “You’re Not Special, Babe” subtly shifts between its anxious drum work and beautifully jazzy vocal harmonies. While the lyrics aren’t anything to write home about - mostly a series of competent lovelorn tales and not much more - but the music does a damn good job of fleshing out each story Gartland is telling.
So Woman on the Internet
is a bit of a doozy to judge. On one hand, it’s pretty standard indie pop/rock fare that doesn’t quite do enough for Ortland to separate herself from her many peers. However, I can’t help but admire her compositions and the way they compliment her (admittedly generic) lyrics. If anything, it’s a good launching pad; if she can just tweak the lyrics and exhibit a few more stylistic elements that help her stand out in the sea of indie pop singers, I think we’ll have something really special on our hands. As it stands, however, Woman on the Internet
is a solid way for Orla Gartland to transition from Youtube to mainstream success.