Vicky Farewell – Sweet Company | Reviews

Perhaps it’s overly optimistic to call the 20s music’s age of inclusivity, but it is fair to say that there are a wider range of opportunities to be heard – even if they don’t always translate into fair compensation for artists. Still, even in this world of ever-more-granular genre splintering, Vicky Farewell is harder to pigeonhole than most. A first-generation American who trained as a classical pianist, she claims to be influenced by everything from radio jingles to sacred choral music, while her CV of associated acts – Anderson .Paak, Mac DeMarco, Mild High Club – reads like a catalogue of oddballs.

Her biggest break so far has been .Paak’s blockbusting ‘Malibu’, where she boasts production credits and cowrote two songs (including the sumptuously trippy ‘Parking Lot’). But if you’re expecting Farewell’s solo debut ‘Sweet Company’ to sound anything at all like the kitchen-sink maximalism of ‘Malibu’, you’re in for a pleasantly odd surprise. Short at 27 minutes and sweet like its title, ‘Sweet Company’ makes a virtue of simplicity, building disarmingly straightforward songs around a few synths, some unexotic beats, and Farewell’s unassuming vocals. The result is often so whimsical that it’s hard to tell whether Farewell is performing sincerely or with her tongue firmly in her cheek.

As with a lot of indie pop, the truth seems to lie somewhere in between those extremes – and it’s a welcoming album in that sense, openly encouraging whatever kind of enjoyment seems appropriate. The title track, for instance, is funny (ha-ha, but also peculiar in a way): it’s saccharine and awkwardly slow, with a guitar solo that pulls out every clichéd stop from arpeggios to a nice harmony bit at the end. But as with all good pastiche, it succeeds by being both an exaggeration of its own style and a genuinely well-executed example of it. The tune is both childish and catchy. Farewell’s voice is softly likeable, like a nostalgic treat you’re ashamed to enjoy. Even that guitar solo revels in its own uncoolness.

This is a fine balance, and one which the album sometimes loses. When this happens, it’s largely down to production decisions: Farewell is clearly adept at drawing on her influences for a sound that’s greater than the sum of its parts, but seems reluctant at times to give her own vocals the place they deserve. ‘Believe Me’ is a lovely song with a hazy trip-hop feel, but Farewell’s curiously muffled voice doesn’t sit as comfortably in the mix as it could. ‘H.W.’ also has some dodgy vocal processing going on – rather than adding colour to the music, it acts as a barrier to intimacy, and distracts from the laid-back, neo-soul vibe Farewell seems to be aiming for.

This is a shame, as Vicky Farewell is a fab songwriter, with a knack for penning traditional pop melodies that burrow their way into your brain and playfully roll about in there like a handful of marbles. ‘Kakashi (All Of The Time)’ is a brilliantly bright love song, and the album’s most focused ray of sunshine. And the closing track, ‘Get Me’, lingers long after its three-minute runtime is up – like so much of ‘Sweet Company’, it’s somehow both disarmingly familiar and wonderfully new. It’s possible that Farewell’s testing the waters a little with ‘Sweet Company’, which is more the length of an EP than a full-length album; if that’s the case, she’s certainly one to watch.

6/10

Words: Tom Kingsley

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