The rise to fame of Watford native Kyla La Grange begs the obvious question: do we really need another big-voiced, silly-frocked popstrel bothering award shows and airwaves for months to come? I mean, really? It’s like any female musician who’s lucky enough to shoot to fame is instantly indebted to earn her keep by making as loud a racket as humanly possible. Perhaps the mainstream media find it hard to comprehend the very concept of a ‘female musician’ unless she’s trussed up in tinfoil, liberally sprinkled with peacock feathers and hollering long and hard about how much of a crazy animal she is. But I sure hope not.
In any case ‘Ashes’ is, for the most part, heavily predictable fare. Opener ‘Walk Through Walls’ is depressingly formulaic, with a smidge of Anna Calvi in the swirling guitar, a pinch of Florence Welch’s drama on the Glee-style major key chorus and a whole lot of Kate Bush in the vocal acrobatics. The overall effect is an inoffensive mum-rock ballad to haunt diet food adverts and Radio 2 playlists. It brings us to ‘Ashes’’ biggest problem: like many albums of its ilk, it is over-produced to the extent good music is ruined.
Take the song ‘Courage’, which, if left to gestate naturally, would surely have materialised as a fairly inoffensive, cutesy country ballad. But after a bout of over-enthusiastic studio tinkering courtesy of producer Brett Shaw (Eliza Doolittle, Viva Brother, Ed Sheeran, and other delights) it emerges as a sticky, reverb-drowned mess, with slapped-on choral sections and thudding drums attempting to synthetically induce a climax which Kyla’s simplistic songwriting clearly does not naturally accommodate. Likewise the Tori Amos-lite piano ballad ‘To Be Torn’ isn’t quite as impressive as the thunderclap drums and witchy reverb accompanying it seem to think. It’s as incongruous as seeing a stick figure framed in ornate gold leaf. It sits on the album like a noxious, sticky film, asphyxiating any organic talent that may threaten to surface, and turns it into an immature-sounding 13 tracks, as synthetic as any label-made girl band or Frankenstein’s Monster-esque Cowell creation.
All is not lost, however, as the album’s sparser moments and Kyla’s great Daytrotter session can attest. She could be perfectly lovely if toned down a smidge. Upcoming single ‘Vampire Smile’ may use melodramatic Twilight-ish metaphors to describe a parasitic relationship (“I’m a vampire smile, you’ll meet a sticky end/I’m here trying not to bite your neck”), but the slight acoustic strumming suits Kyla’s hushing voice – until a wall of cringey vocal vaunting spoils it all. And ‘Heavy Stone’ may have been needlessly souped up, but the prettiness is at least retained. Let’s just hope Kyla sluices off the studio gunk next time around.