The transition from folk to pop artist can often be a sticky one. 2017 saw several artists make the move, including Nina Nesbitt and Gabrielle Aplin, with Nesbitt’s latest offerings falling somewhat limp at the marker. It’s an audacious move; artists risk losing the fan-base that they have built up over their career by altering their sound so drastically. If done correctly, as demonstrated by Taylor Swift’s victorious transition into pop stardom, the results can be incredibly rewarding.
Rae Morris arrived onto the English folk scene circa 2012, and established herself as an indie-folk artist by supporting acts such as Tom Odell and Lucy Rose. Morris’ 2015 debut album ‘Unguarded’ was a piano-based album saturated with heavy, reverbed keys and emotionally-charged ballads. Contrary to its title, the album was guarded, predictable and lacking in edge.
The moody, pensive songwriter from her debut album was seemingly discharged from her duties last summer with the arrival of Reborn, the lead single from what would be her second album ‘Someone Out There’. When Reborn appeared on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist last June, it was accompanied by artwork featuring an unrecognisable Morris in athletic attire in front of a fluorescent pink backdrop so bright it imprints itself temporarily onto viewers’ retinas. Morris had jumped from one end of the music genre spectrum to the other.
Reborn is a suitably named, phoenix rising from the ashes-esque track with tense verses building up into euphoric chorus’, “These are new beginnings/Won’t let the past determine/I am reborn”. The synth-based song sounded a definite and lyrically-literal departure from Morris’ singer-songwriter roots and an arrival to the electro-pop music realm.
The album eases its listeners in with the delicate, celestial Push Me To My Limit. The song is an exquisite response to an argument with a lover, with sparse synth pads and gentle brass lines for accompaniment. “I tidy up the mess we’ve made, find distractions, paint the floor boards white”.
In contrast, Athletico (The Only One) is bouncy and up-tempo, with an infectious chorus hook and a delicious, rising bridge section. Similarly, Do It and Dip My Toe are optimistic and buoyant, and make convincing cases to just bite the bullet despite the consequences. The songs manage to sonically portray the true feeling of letting go and succumbing to unencumbered impulse.
The general theme of reinvention and self-discovery is prevalent throughout the whole album. It’s the second half of ‘Someone Out There’ that really impresses, Wait For The Rain in particular is a definite high point. The song sees its sanguine protagonist wait impatiently for the rain to arrive to cleanse her of her pain, and features a colossal outro section complete with a brass section and layers of synths. Physical Form is brooding and contemplative; Morris questions the value of her physicality when a lover seems blind to her presence.
The title track Someone Out There is a somewhat unusual inclusion; as the only piano ballad on the album, it feels a bit out of place with the whole aesthetic of the rest of the songs. Although, thanks to its blind optimism – “Someone out there loves you, someone out there is lonely too” – it certainly fits in thematically at least with the rest of the music.
Morris’ progression as an artist and as a writer is most evident in the final two songs on the album. Rose Garden is an amalgamation of several different styles and unusual sections, which all combine to form an unusual industrial pop/electronica hybrid. The song pays tribute to one of Morris’ sure influences Kate Bush, with impressive vocal acrobatics and a burgeoning drum-and-bass line, not unlike those in Running Up That Hill.
The album ends similarly to how it started, with the gentle, earnest Dancing With Character. In a recent interview, Morris acknowledged a development in her writing on this album in a newfound ability to write from other people’s perspectives, a talent that she exercises here. Dancing With Character is a song about an elderly couple who would go dancing together each week. When his wife passed away, the widower continued to go dancing in her honour – “Now he’s dancing alone, moving from the memory in his bones”. Morris proves herself to be a convincing and enthralling story teller, she manages to find something beautiful in a sad subject.
‘Someone Out There’ is an album that took risks. Not unlike Charli XCX, who is also challenging the defining characteristics of pop with her new music, Morris strayed outside the boundaries of the pop genre and moulded it to form her own, unique sound. Both artists have refused to conform to typical pop conventions, and as a result, are becoming frontrunners in the emerging experimental pop genre.
It’s hard to think of any other artist that sounds like Morris at the moment – she is unashamedly and totally herself. In a playlist curated era, artists are taking fewer risks with the type of music that they’re writing, any quirks and nuances are suppressed. In contrast to the plethora of heavy, politically-charged music that came out of 2017, ‘Someone Out There’ is bright, optimistic and confident. It’s good for the soul, and it’s exactly what we needed.