From Sweet Songstress to Poetic Pop-Star; The Musical Evolution of Gabrielle Aplin

I’ve said in previous posts that I grew up in the generation where YouTube was on the cusp of being what it is now, and being doubted at every chance. A few of my friends/school-mates were, and still are, on YouTube and many started out in 2009. In 2009 it seemed that more people were starting to believe that it could actually be a permanent thing and not just a temporary sensation. It was around this time that I found many of the artists and creators that I now class as some of my favourites. One of whom is Gabrielle Aplin.

Many of these artists were the same age or a little older than me, and one of the most tenderly endearing aspects of being subscribed to someone like that is you watch them change. You seem them evolve from how they start into different variations as they try to define their comfortable style while they also grow up, looking for their identity. Until one day when something seems to click, and their identity and, as a result, style starts to take shape. Gabrielle Aplin seems like a great example of this.

The most fascinating thing about her evolution is that it seems so subtle, but at the same time so remarkably different between each stage. I’m not a huge fan of using comparison too freely, but Gabrielle’s music has also always, one way or another, reminded me of a more upbeat Joni Mitchell. That, don’t mistake me, is a great compliment. The one thing both have in common is that their approach to lyricism and timing is nothing short of poetic, something that seems to be missing in a lot of mainstream music.

That is what is at the core of all her music, but if we go back to 2010, when her E.P. ‘Acoustic’ was released and look at her style, that core is still there but everything else seems starkly different from today. Firstly, as the name might suggest, we are given a very acoustic feeling EP that has soft and relatively simple guitar backing to it, without little to over-complicate it. Mountains being a good example of this, as it plays out we can imagine a young and talented woman at a live gig singing this sweet song, that soon gets stuck in our heads. Sweet is perhaps one way to define this stage, the first EP being simplistic and sweet, albeit again do not mistake me, I do not mean sweet in any patronising sense. It is the sort of EP and style that warms a piece of your heart, and can also break it but with enough tenderness that you feel recovery isn’t impossible. The cover art also reflects this as we see a picture of young Gabrielle, arms crossed, one hand just touching her face. An image I also remember as being the main display picture of her YouTube channel so, in a personal sense, there is also that element of a connection to younger years and a different atmosphere.

The EP’s Never Fade (2011) and Home (2012) generally follow suit in the style of Acoustic, with a little added sting to her bite, some songs like Lying To The Mirror that seem a little fiercer in delivery in places. Being that these first 3 EPs are by comparison fairly similar, I’m going to skip ahead to what has seemed to be her current midpoint between Acoustic and her most recent work, Light Up The Dark (2015) and Miss You (2016). This midpoint being also, arguably, the moment her name and style began to gain more prominence and fame.

Yes, it is her debut album English Rain (2013). The first song on the album being Panic Chord, a song that shows the further maturity of her already mature voice and ability to represent subjects. If we are then to define English Rain, like we did with Acoustic (‘Sweet’) then I might suggest ‘mature’ being the closest term. You see, with each song you can hear a hint of both the younger Gabrielle and the older – something obviously we couldn’t full appreciate til now, having heard both – and it is rather interesting. These two styles are intermingling to create a beautiful entrance into the album scene for Gabrielle. It feels as if it is the moment Gabrielle is developing this original style, keeping the soft and almost soothing nature of her voice and words, and playing around with timing and playing some moments riskier. She is more daring in her approach, and more willing to experiment. Songs like Ready To Question and Evaporate begin to feed in a stronger rock essence that is a little more varied in tone and speed compared to the previous consistently calmer tracks. It is an album that in its form and subject matter seem to define an era in a persons life that is teetering between young life and adult life, and all the strange and wonderful mishaps that come with that.

So here we come to the most recent music of her second album Light Up The Dark (2015) and the E.P Miss You (2016) which I’ll talk about as a whole. This most recent stage can be defined as being the most modern and rocky. She knows exactly what she is doing, and she is also dangerously clever in the way each song is undeniably catchy and relatable. The style though, it is different, not just in the case of her own music, but in the case in general of mainstream music. She is mixing the world of pop and folk that we have previously assigned to her, with the world of rocky rebellion. The songs again are much fiercer, angrier in parts, but they are also incredibly stylistic, as if all the experimentation of English Rain has confirmed in her mind what it is she is looking for. Light Up The Dark is consistent, each song is wonderfully written, and the musical essence of each feels so strong and defined that it is hard to find fault.

Each stage, again unlike other artists, is great in their own right, there is nothing wrong with the ‘sweetness’ of the first 3 eps, nor is their anything wrong or confusing in the maturity and experimentation of English Rain. Each album is an exploration of how music can be twisted and played with, as well as an investigation into her own self and her position as a musician. No matter how strong and defined the style of Light Up The Dark feels, listening to songs like Miss You and Night Bus suggest that this isn’t the end of her experimentation and I, for one, am thrilled at that prospect.

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