Alice Phoebe Lou offers us Shelter – a delightful body of classily styled indie songs that massages the ears, soothes the soul, and distinguishes itself as one of the most heartening musical outings to emerge so far this year.
Since releasing her debut album Orbit in 2016, Alice Phoebe Lou has built up a self-sufficient catalogue that has proven to be consistently enjoyable. As well as full-lengths, the Berlin-based singer-songwriter – South African in origin – has also dropped a slew of EPs and live albums to keep her busy while cultivating a steadily expanding listenership (including capturing the attention of one Paul McCartney). Fifth album Shelter follows Glow and Child’s Play, both from 2021 (the latter of which was a surprise December drop), and further bolsters the growing acclaim for great music that Lou has garnered both under her own moniker and with her side project Strongboi.
None of this comes as a surprise. You see, Alice Phoebe Lou possesses a permeating charm that comes through in so many facets of her music; Shelter showcases this with a range of stylistic choices that accentuate both the attractiveness of vocals and instrumentals alike. Moreover, there’s a fragrant sense of ardour worn by every track here, primarily achieved as Lou’s smooth, compelling songwriting builds up with flourish from the often modest yet sturdy foundational passages underpinning each song. They may say the devil’s in the details, but some of those incorporated on Shelter are heavenly.
At the core of most songs are guitar strums and piano/keys, giving everything a somewhat reclining vibe, felt as much in the album’s latter stages as in the opening track “Angel” or the titular track. Hi-hat tempers this relaxing aura with a sense of metered progression, although the more classy, vintage textures of “Open My Door” and “Lately” dial things back further until you’re truly horizontal, lowering the pace while upping the inherent sense of romanticism. These slower numbers also do well to highlight the understated basslines and shimmers of electric guitar.
Contrastingly, “Lose My Head” injects a brief boost of pulsating 80s pop vibrancy into Shelter‘s otherwise acoustic indie temperament – certainly in comparison to the Joni Mitchell-esque jaunt of “Halo” later on. I hasten to add that for all its fizz, “Lose My Head” is no less welcome in the roster, and still takes time to compose itself before a lavish piano-driven ending. Everywhere you turn, though, there’s a fluttering of stringed instruments to adore, a twinkling gleam in harmonies laid out over luscious chords, a swaying and stirring in the percussion that is here to woo you by sheer magnitude of its undeniable appeal.
For all the wonderful instrumentation that is used to convey such easygoing character on Shelter, the greatest triumph on any given song is undoubtedly the tuneful, intricate voice of Alice Phoebe Lou herself. She commands the melodies of her compositions beautifully, drawing out the maximum potential on every song with a delivery that, while predominantly softened, still captures your undivided attention. The likes of “Shine” employ harmony to great effect, while penultimate track “Hammer” is sung with a crooning trill that wouldn’t seem entirely out of place in the dim glow and dusky smoke of a bar – serenading us before the poignant and empowering final message of “My Girl”.
The overarching sensation that I get while listening to this is that of being whisked away: there’s such breadth of perceived place and momentum. I mean this in the sense that when Shelter is playing, I find myself inhabiting imagined spaces alongside Alice Phoebe Lou as she performs with siren-like allure. There is no threaded narrative as such, but the songs on Shelter could almost take you on a journey. It’s hard to convey adequately, but it’s as if you’re retracing the trail of time and sentiments shared by enamoured individuals: they visit cafés and bookstores, meander through parks, and take sunset car rides in the direction of opulently decorated clubs – all awash in gloriously sensual and amorous hues. There are lyrical moments of frailty and vulnerability scattered throughout, which only heighten the humanity of Lou’s latest work.
In a fraction over half an hour, Alice Phoebe Lou provides nine worthwhile reasons to indulge in her warmly inviting sound. The songs here want to let you in and embrace you…shelter you, if you will. Allow the album to do so, and you’ll quickly find that Alice Phoebe Lou exposes a sense of uninhibited joy and bewitching serenity that is hard to break free from – not that you’ll want to.
Artist Photo: Andrea Ariel