Sometimes BBC Sound Of nominees actually live up to the high expectations thrust upon them. Sometimes they flounder under the hype. And sometimes they’re Jessie J.
It’s amusing, then, that Rae Morris found her way onto this year’s longlist but was snubbed of the top five in favour of the terrible rhymes of George The Poet, a grime artist arriving a decade too late (Stormzy), and boredom personified (James Bay). Yet with her far more exciting debut ‘Unguarded’ – a collection of beautiful, heartbreaking songs – Morris has the last laugh.
That she comes from a folky, singer-songwriter background is clearly apparent throughout her music. Having learnt the piano as a youngster, she was later mentored by Karima Francis and has toured more recently with the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club, Lianne La Havas, Noah and the Whale and Tom Odell. That folksy quality comes through in her propensity for piano playing, lightly lilting melodies and delicate air. On Don’t Go her fragile vocal pleads over simple piano, whilst penultimate track This Time is a hushed and intimate piece of chamber balladry. Both are emotionally raw but performed with pleasantly subtle restraint.
However, ‘Unguarded’ is so much more than simple singer-songwriter material. Her ability to twist and bend her sound towards different genres is what keeps the album exciting, making this alt-pop album both accessible and intriguing. The throbbing bass, haunting vocal hooks and twinkling harp of Under The Shadows bring to mind the expansive pop sound of Florence and the Machine; Closer features a driving R&B beat; Love Again develops a piano pattern into a euphoric track that’s ripe for remixing. Later on Do You Even Know it’s the electronics that take the fore, with a skittering beat and synth bass accompanied by childlike glockenspiel and layered vocals.
It’s her heartfelt songwriting, though, that remains at the core of the album, sung with a breeziness that ensures the emotion isn’t overwrought: from the intimacy of Don’t Go, to the yearning spiritual heights of Morne Fortuné, and the sumptuous closing power ballad Not Knowing that Annie Lennox would probably be proud of. The result is a remarkable debut with a unique and experimental sound that marks her alongside the likes of Bat for Lashes and Tori Amos, rather than the soppy folksy rubbish she’s had the (mis)fortune of supporting on tour. It might just catch you off-guard in a fit of weeping.
* Love Again
* Morne Fortuné
* Not Knowing
Listen: ‘Unguarded’ is available now.