Lavalu is the US born, Dutch based artist Marielle Woltring who has been creating music since 1998 under her own name, adopting the Lavalu moniker in 2004. “Solitary High” is her third album, originally released in 2017.
“With this album I return to my roots. Just the piano and I, no band behind me. But on my own terms: the vocals contemporary pop, the piano classical. My mom told me that when I was three I used to hang around the piano all day. The moment I could reach the keys, I got to go to piano lessons.”
“For over twenty years Lavalu studied music by Bach, Satie and Debussy. In her formative years she discovered powerful singer-songwriters like Fiona Apple and Bjork. Their independent way of creating inspired her to write her own songs.”
In a way you could say that Woltring uses her voice as an instrument. Not in the Diamanda Galas way, but as her voice is as central to and equal in volume to the piano, it emphasises its importance. There’s an innocence and a vulnerability to her voice which she is able to change to fit per the theme or mood of each track.
Musically the album is stark. The piano has a dramatic tone with the weight of the playing and its balanced pace which mirrors Woltrings’s vocals. For the majority of the album the pace is controlled and follows the narrative and style of the vocals, but on tracks such as “Longest Dawn”, “Hide Me” and “Safe” you find Woltrings’s playing become exploratory. In particular “Safe” pushes the envelope not only on the piano, but also the way the vocals are presented. The multi tracking of the chorus and the way that it sounds like a mini choir makes the track stand out.
For the majority of the album you get the feeling of neo classical music, but done through a certain pop/songwriter lens. The opener “Waiting” is the first you’ve chance have had to hear Lavalu. You get a true feeling of neo classical piano which continues through out the track, with a fluid and vivid feel and proves her musical credentials are as impressive as her vocal ones. Initially due to my personal taste in music, especially in regards to vocalists, I didn’t think the album was for me. One thing I am learning on this journey to really listen to music rather than just let it be a soundtrack to my day-to-day life, is to have an open ear and equally open and critical mind. This track is an example of what I mentioned above about the pairing of the piano and her voice. The first piano notes set the tone with their darkish introspection which is matched with her emotional, but controlled vocals. You feel that Woltring is wearing her heart on her sleeve. The way the piano and voice interact captures your intention very early on.
“Hide Me” gives me visions of Beth Orton (granted my female vocal comparisons are rather limited). This is the kind of track where both piano and her vocals are occupying their own space and are left to explore their own emotions. The faster paced opening lets Woltring’s vocals match the rhythmical flow, but still retain its own identity.
Limiting the sound pallet to piano and voice can be a detriment to some music. With tracks like “Honey” with its slow funeral pace and more breathier vocals and the almost ambience of “Swaying” alongside controlled and not overstated, nor understates vocals, show how in the right hands a variety of different compositions can be formed from the barest off building blocks.
The album’s last track “Too Much” is a powerful acapela track which emphasises the quality of Woltring’s voice and allows her to pace the song entirely based on voice alone. Vocally it sounds like an old folk song. There is a torch song quality to her voice that is accentuated by the recording process. It’s an interesting way to finish an album. Initially when listened to the album my itunes organized the tracks alphabetically and so “Waiting” followed it. By realizing that this is the last track of the album, it makes more of a statement rather than if it was preceding another track, which would make it more of an intro styled track.
Slowly and slowly my aversion for vocals are disappearing and it’s work such as this that are making me re-appraise the importance of vocals and talented vocalists. I recommend this release for those that may share the same resistance to singing as myself.For fans of modern classical and excellent vocals with a pop edge.