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‘Alight’ Sheds Light On Young Artists

| Monday, April 28, 2014

AlightShed_BannerWEBERIN RICE | The Observer

History is riddled with young artists ⎯ prodigal talents whose skills have pushed them into the eye of their communities and eventually, their nations. In the digital age, more and more of these artists are appearing. New technology allows young men and women to produce professional-grade pieces across all mediums. In the case of digital media, this art can then be displayed and distributed online with little to no difficulty. It’s no surprise, then, that the modern music scene is one that, more than ever, is fronted by teenagers and young adults. Alongside boy-bands and pop stars, DIY producers and singer-songwriters have risen drastically in the indie scene.

With such young independent acts rising in popularity, many critics are presented with a new set of questions: Is there some value to the flaws in a young person’s record that represents the mental or artistic development yet to come? Is there value in lyrics that showcase naivety and immaturity? At the heart of this question is the idea of the incomplete artist. Can the output of a budding musician somehow be better for the flaws that better reveal its creator?

An excellent place to start this investigation is the latest album by 18-year-old singer-songwriter-producer Juansolo, whose album “Alight” poses all these questions and more. Written through the elementary production program Fruity Loops and recorded on stock laptop speakers, the album showcases the rough edges of its production. Lyrics boast traces of accompanying static and background noise. Guitar lines are alternately sharp and thin. Drums boast clattering highs and overwhelming lows. The extreme ends of the musical spectrum are at the forefront, often barraging the ear in a challenging way.

Amazingly, these sounds are framed in extremely friendly contexts. The songs of “Alight” are pop songs through and through. Each track is built around a central melody or musical trademark; some take the form of verses and choruses, while others follow a perpetuating element through a series of evolutions. “True Wuv” and follower “Moon” are clear examples of the former, rolling through maximalist verses that build their way to and around catchier choruses. Meanwhile, “Atlantis” is a standard, non-vocal EDM track that goes build-fake drop-build-drop, and hip-hop inspired “Snow” simply bends and releases a single vocal motif.

And yet, given the central conflict between uneven, jagged production and pop-song structure, “Alight” manages to achieve a cohesive whole through lyrical voice and maximalist arrangement. Every song here is bursting at the seams with youthful energy, both musical and vocal. Opener “Hogwarts Letter” mirrors the excitement inspired by its title with synths swirling around multiple pitch-shifted voices that bellow, “Don’t you shy away.” “True Wuv” cloaks a last-guy-and-girl-in-the-world fantasy in a relentless string sample. Obvious highlight “Tagalong” crunches through two verse-chorus rotations of lo-fi production before bursting into vivid hi-fi, where Juan declares repeatedly, “We could be so great together, I just want to share your weather.” It’s a record where everything is turned up to 10 on the excitement factor, with neither the music nor lyrics getting lost along the way.

“Alight” does manage to balance this out a bit by placing smoother, more laidback ⎯ but still layered and lush ⎯ songs among the anthems. “Snow” and closer “Asleep” are clear examples of this. Both are relatively dark. “Snow” asks a lover, “If we fell from here, would it take forever to fall out of love?” while “Asleep” tries to find optimism in death. But even these tracks are full of life and brightness, looking for light at the end of their respective tunnels.

In the end, “Alight” is the perfect youth record. It’s rough around the edges, has a heart of gold and is bursting with energy. And although it’s no immaculate, innovative musical moment, it’s certainly an exciting and engaging one that brings the listener intensely close to the artist. From a critical perspective, it’s a fantastic work that echoes the best and worst of the adolescent years. “Alight” may be a trip down the twisting, unpredictable road of teenage life, but it’s definitely one worth taking.

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