Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Unguarded | Rae Morris


★★★☆☆

After features with Clean Bandit and Bombay Bicycle Club, Rae Morris has stepped out solo. Though unknown in the United States, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter has been building steam in the United Kingdom for years thanks to her collaborations and a string of extended plays. With producers Ariel Rechtshaid (Haim, Sky Ferreira, Charli XCX) and Jim Eliot (Ellie Goulding, Christina Perri) in tow, Morris released her debut album, Unguarded, earlier this year.

Due to production styles and vocal tone, listeners have already drawn comparisons between Morris and outlandish songstress Kate Bush. Morris's pop magnum opus, "Under the Shadows," seems to justify all of the suspicions. Everything about the haunting song, from Eliot's powerful production to Morris's vocal delivery, ooze influence from Bush's "Running Up That Hill." (Morris actually knows of the comparison, and is flattered.) Other '80s pop and dance influences are alluded to throughout the album, and they take control on "Love Again" and "Closer." The former shimmers with dance beats, while the latter targets adult contemporary radio.

Elsewhere, Morris continues to wow with her airy, delicate vocals. Her voice is embedded in a progressive dance instrumental on "Do You Even Know?," and it echoes over the brooding production of "Cold," a duet with Fryars. That flexible voice often soars and charges through her production, but occasionally, it is placed at the forefront. It is most stunning as it drifts over "This Time," and it is most fragile on the heartfelt "Don't Go" as she reflects on a relationship: "Don't go, don't feel like you have to. Only if you want to. Fill my world with hope again."

Morris's voice enchants listeners on her piano-driven ballads, but she delivers better products when that voice is surrounded by lush production ("Under the Shadows," "Cold," "Love Again"). Stronger production album-wide would have shot its quality to the sky and would have made it more appealing towards American tastes. (The United States lacks prominent adult contemporary pop artists today, but the United Kingdom has a clenched grip on artists like Rae Morris and Indiana.) However, all criticisms aside, Morris's debut is a decent introduction.

Unguarded is available now in the United Kingdom under Atlantic Records. It can be imported to the United States through Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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