Published Mar 06, 2019Alice Phoebe Lou got her start as a musically curious and naturally talented teenager from Cape Town, South Africa, busking in Europe before later immersing herself in the cultural mecca of Berlin, where she is based now. The 25-year-old's second studio album, Paper Castles, is a highly refined, incredibly mature blend of retro-futuristic jazz, blues and folk led by Lou's entrancing voice, which seems to gleam and sparkle with her swoon-at-sundown aura and magical prose.
There's an unbridled curiosity around Paper Castles that Lou gracefully casts around her. The sense of mysticism is warm and comforting on "Galaxies," a song that feels like a snug voyage deep into the imaginary, where airy, queasy strokes of electronics are met with Lou's dazzling vocals that light up into excited quips and glassy croons.
Lou's celestial inquisitions turn inward on "Nostalgia," which basks in her piercingly soulful delivery in a perpetual golden hue. "Fynbos" is especially vivid, as Lou hauntingly recalls, "I can still smell the fynbos after a night's rain and the fairies and the magic that blossomed from our brains." With a glimmer of guitar and Lou's chilling high-pitched flourishes, "Something Holy" unwinds from its bobbin of intimacy into something classically pure.
Lou takes a more direct approach on "Skin Crawl," which is an outright rebuttal in response to her encounter with sexual assault. It's a deceivably cozy slow dance number on the surface, but as she confidently sings, "How about I take your patriarchy, your misogyny, and put it in the backyard and set fire to it," it's clear there's never been a line sung that is more rightfully defiant.
Choosing to remain an independent artist without a label and letting her stirring narratives naturally go their own way, Paper Castles quietly builds onto Lou's impressive repertoire of era-less music that slows time down and touches the essence of the human experience. (Independent)