It’s Ok To Cry is a glistening pop gem that belies its brevity. Championing honesty and self-empowerment, Phoebe Katis tackles the nuances of life and relationships – both bitter and sweet – with striking elegance and energy.
I’ve been on something of a melodic music kick so far in 2020. Now, a mere year after gifting the world her debut full-length Honesty, London-based songwriter Phoebe Katis is here to help continue my venture. Her talents have brought a variety of opportunities, from writing and performing the theme for BAFTA and BIFA-winning film Kajaki in 2014 to performing live at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London (a prospective combination which, frankly, I find simply divine). Such undertakings have ultimately led us here, to her sophomore album It’s Ok To Cry.
The record is a journey of emotion, as the first cluster of tracks will make apparent. The short but hair-raising instrumental softness of “Time To Wake” sets a magical tone, with harmony and piano-led warmth aplenty. From there, we launch into title track “It’s OK To Cry”, a funky soul number revelling in its uplifting message that vulnerability is often a healthy thing: ‘Don’t let the shadow fool you/It just needs a little light‘. Minutes later, Katis presents the positive power anthem “You Make Everything Better” over a plodding, jovial drumbeat. Fast forward a little, and midway into the album “Peace” provides delightful finger-picked guitar accompaniment to a poignant excerpt from renowned writer and speaker Alan Watts, titled No Wrong Feelings – delivered as part of a collection of his lectures entitled You’re It.
I mention the instances above as they differ significantly from one another, and that’s par for the album. However, there’s not a note out of place here, really – the whole thing is pristine, production included, with the only sign of imperfection contained within the tales woven by the frank and honest lyrics themselves. On “The Way We Feel”, Katis’s sweet melodies linger, with imploring messages of ‘Let’s talk about the way you feel/I get the impression you’re somewhere else tonight‘. It’s a far cry from the crooning hopefulness of ‘I’ve figured out how to live life blessed/It always goes to show/You make everything better‘ found earlier in the album.
The light-footed hopping of moods doesn’t deter from the album’s flow and pacing either. Rather, these clashing juxtapositions are indicative of perhaps her greatest asset: aptly demonstrating the flexibility and quality of her songwriting prowess. “Placebo” and “Let Me Lose You” are just two examples that showcase this, but honestly? I could have picked any two tracks from the ten on offer, and they would still have been testament to Katis’s ability to pen catchy numbers that always possess a certain jaunt to them – even when dealing with difficult subject matters. Each theme is melded seamlessly – even the melancholic ones – with the band’s predominantly chipper performances. Equally versatile is the characterful cadence and tone of Katis’s voice. Over the course of the LP, her tuneful pipes flit from fashions of Lily Allen and early-career Kate Nash on numbers like “The Way We Feel” and “Better Than This” to moving class and grace akin to Eva Cassidy, as exemplified on “Sometimes It’s Meant To Hurt” and “Let Me Lose You”.
The use of harmony is grand and enriching, adding an exquisite warmth to the sound, whether as a chorus of oohs and ahhs, or the multi-layered vocalisations of closing number “And So It Begins”. It also has to be said that Katis’s voice combined with that damned honey-sweet Wurlitzer is a musical match made in heaven. The pair dance, twirling around amid a wondrous tapestry of keys, shimmering guitar, and bubbly, plucky bass that meanders pleasantly at the forefront of the mix, but never overpoweringly so.
The short-lived nature of It’s Ok To Cry is my only tangible gripe with the record. At a mere 28 minutes, “And So It Begins” closes the album with aplomb, yet left me yearning for more. But then, as previously said, this album arrives just a fraction over a year after Katis’s last full-length. Not a common feat in these days of isolated strands of singles and almost painfully long waits between some records.
Considering the succinct nature of It’s Ok To Cry, there is incredible depth and variety here. This glittering slice of soulful pop-funk is not an album to sleep on, truly marking Phoebe Katis as a standout British artist. It should at least cement her as a staple of your summer/breakup/anything really playlist. Sure, the album may be over inside of half an hour, but in music I’ll always take quality over quantity, and albums like this are exactly why. Besides, at this rate she’ll
probably hopefully have another album out next year anyway – if we’re lucky.