At first listen, ‘Cut Your Teeth’ is the extreme opposite of Kyla La Grange’s debut ‘Ashes’. Where that album was a guitar-led collection of folky festival tunes, this new work (produced by British electro producer Jakwob) is minimalistic, darkly electronic and introspective.
It’s a beautiful change of pace. The sparsely produced title track, for instance, sees La Grange lamenting “you never knew my name” over a spectral beat, bubbling bass and gently oscillating synths; whilst the album’s other lead single, The Knife, revolves around a steel drum patter that contrasts with the melancholic lyric “does it tear you up inside?”. Where her earlier work failed to stand out from the crowd, ‘Cut Your Teeth’ is arresting for its quiet delicacy.
Listen closely, though, and that folk influence is still present, predominantly in La Grange’s vocal. It’s a pretty voice that lilts gracefully with folk inflections, its fragility matched by the cold, brittle nature of the production. There’s an earthiness to the lyrics too with a focus on nature: “so will you come down to the river if I take your lion’s mane?” she questions on White Doves; Fly is full of folky storytelling with stabs of synths; and Raise The Dead opens with a capella harmonies that’s pure Clannad. Final track Lyssa meanwhile eschews the new sound in favour of the old guitars, sounding totally out of place.
The two lead singles show the pop potential of the album, in addition to the stormy Get It and Maia (which oddly sounds like it was recorded underwater). As a whole, though, ‘Cut Your Teeth’ feels almost too minimal, to the point of lacking substance. Over time, La Grange’s ethereal voice feels whispy and lacks power, whilst the production doesn’t develop and fails to provide a real punch; there’s a lack of depth to the sound, with ironically not enough to sink your musical teeth into. On the flip side her material is ripe for remixing – Kygo’s brililant remix of Cut YourTeeth offers the donk the original can’t.
Ultimately La Grange’s change in sound is a risky strategy that definitely pays off, resulting in a far more original album than her past material. The album’s subtlety is both its strength and its weakness: a liberal sprinkling of fairy dust creates plenty of haunting, magic moments, but in the pursuit of delicacy that magic dust is too easily blown away without leaving an impact.
* Cut Your Teeth
* The Knife
* Get It
Listen: ‘Cut Your Teeth’ is available now.