1. Track List (9)
Boundless Talent Needs Somewhere More Dynamic To Go On Anna Clendening’s Waves - EP
After singing “Hallelujah” to great acclaim on America’s Got Talent in 2014, Chapel Hill North Carolina native Anna Clendening garnered a huge multi million person fan base, and was able to maintain her social media following while developing and polishing off the music which would culminate in the Waves – Ep, an album that does a few things right and a few things wrong in my opinion. What is mostly right is probably what is most important; Anna Clendening has a decent voice, with plenty of strength, even when set to ‘subtle’, plus, she creatively and effortlessly transitions from more Pop worthy styles to R&B to rap singing cadences. That is an absolutely necessary vocal toolset in modern Pop, as artists reflect their love for multiple genres, ad especially those of the Reggae Fusion, Hip Hop, and R&B worlds. In fact, while I love the fact that Pop now draws upon many influences, at the same time I can be annoying that since everyone does a prerequisite style and includes it on their EP or album, all albums end up sounding mostly the same. Which makes the merit of Waves – EP such a tough call. It is more than fifty percent good, which means that Anna Clendening has a future. With that said, there isn’t a ton of speciation to separate her work from that of so many others. Even her ‘legend’ is common in today’s sympathy grabbing climate. Her story is she was diagnosed with anxiety disorder at 14, and through music and very public posts, she communicates her struggles and success with mental health, of course inspiring especially those who are going through the same thing, yet – this is absolutely the most common backstory in the music industry by now. I am of the opinion that one’s mental health story has been overly commodified, and that opening such a door gets in the way of making really great music. This is not really great music. Similarly, other artists who don’t make really great music tend to put much more energy into the their mental health status updates than to great songwriting. By the way, Pop music should not be impervious to great songwriting just because it is supposed to be light and feel-good. And besides, with all these songs being made about anxiety woes these days, the Pop rules have changed, from songs about mindless fun to songs about misery of the mind. To Anna Clendening’s credit, her video diary updates are casual and truthful, and the things she goes through, such as being unable to clean her room because of anxiety, are embarrassing yet educational insights which I see absolutely resonate with other sufferers who say ‘omg, that is so true and relatable.’ Those fans are on lock, unsurprisingly, but for an outsider like myself who keeps my milder mental issues to myself and between the people close to me, I am only interested in the music. My opinion is that audiences today overlook the actual music in favor of connecting with personalities. Of the music on Waves – EP, there is some promise, and even a couple great tracks, but the talented Anna Clendening could take it even farther with more interesting subject matter and less pandering to expectations.
How Does This Pop Album Transcend?
In her own words, Anna is quoted as saying ‘“Invisible” is an anthem for all the people out there who are in love with someone who they are basically invisible to. It’s a situation I think we are all too familiar with, especially myself. Fair enough, I can even relate to this universal notion, but as a first track on Waves – EP, I instantly began feeling mixed results, leaning more positive than negative, but knowing that the song does not make a lasting impression because of an overall dullness. The beat class and bass bumps are pretty sweet, and Anna Clendening shows that she can sound powerful and dynamic even while taking a laid back stance on her vocal delivery. The tropical steel keys are pretty, but so canned. The hook is well intentioned, but alas, pretty generic. A song like this is much more intent on connecting with fans who have relatable feelings of being invisible, under appreciated, ignored, unloved, unliked. Therefore, content is much more important than the mildly successful music I hear here. “Invisible” is the first track and supposed to make a big impression, but I find it plays way too safe and sounds too similar to a b-side track on a contemporary Pop artists’ album. What is noticeable, and at least well done, is how reserved the instrumentation and arrangement is, and this quiet power does seep into most of the tracks on the album, which does give the EP cohesion. Just one way of making a record; the other way would be a variety of styles and noise levels, but I feel this less is more concept is the best decision to have been made, as it lets the user know what their album listening experience is going to be like. The quiet power continues on the well execute Reggae Fusion shuffle of “Dead End”, where off time colorful claps play out over super soft yet moving piano chords, before rhythm is reinforced by more tropical sounds and subtle yet deeply felt subs. Her voice is exceptional, and also dynamic in its style, as she can expertly sing rap her verses before seamlessly swinging her vocals into a higher and challenging range for the hook “You lie on my sheets, then lie to my face / I lie through my teeth and say I'm okay.” Under all of this is a super soft bed of echoing piano chords that provide a very understated melancholy, which perfectly reflect the meaning of the title and the context of the lyrics – where Anna knows the relationship is a dead end, and sick of dead end feelings, she must find the power to break it off.
Short Of Transcending, Which Track Really Gets Me?
In an interesting turn, Anna Clendening writes a love-hate song personifying her biggest burden in “Anxiety”, where lyrics such as “I wish I could just let you go / but the truth is you are all I've ever known / you're an infection, a medicine, just numbs my brain” go far in creatively putting the listener in the mindset of someone who suffers from such a condition. This is a quiet snap finger song where the special effects are never overdone, and I really dig the arrangement because it is not just there to be cool, but to juxtapose rosy sounding feelings against some pretty bummer lyrics. She spells out the word anxiety letter for letter in a cool part of the hook, and also spells out ‘I hate you’ in the same semi-cute way, which I find to be a very original way of confronting her demons. My most favorite aspect is her voice is the star here, as Clendening exhibits her best singing yet, with lots of Soul shining through. Contrary to my position that songs about anxiety are becoming cliché in the music industry, the lyrics and delivery are smart here, as the anxiety at hand is confronted in a bright and almost upbeat musical way, turning the problem into an anthem of sorts, and one that I think could be lovingly sung along to by other sufferers out there. Holding the track back slightly is the simple note progression, which is pretty, but gets boring after awhile. I really feel that once I got the idea of the basics of the song, it was time to go somewhere new in the arrangement, but alas, it just doesn’t seem to be able to get to that next level. More to my taste, the track “Bend & Break” begins with a decent piece of quiet Pop before switching to a melodic and syncopated House rhythm, proving for me to be the best song on the album. Not only is a great motivational message, but I am compelled to move to this subtle yet very effective jam. The percussion cracks and zaps, grabbing my attention with each measure, while some cool rhythm notes and synth bedding wraps me up in a warm, life-affirming feeling.
Vocals And Some Musical Decisions Wet My Appetite For A New And More Adventurous Album
There is talent here, and some wise musical decisions, even occasionally excellent note and chord choices. But I wonder why a talent such as Anne Clendening doesn’t ask herself from the onset, ‘what makes her different than 100s of others. I am bored to death of “Drowning”, where the progression is appropriately somber yet not nearly exceptional enough to set it apart from same sounding ballads. The hook is just not that great and the arrangement is hollow here, with measures that alternate between having a beat and being sparse – repeat. Likewise, I am vastly underwhelmed on what is supposed to be the final, killer closer of a track, but ends up being disappointing in the same manner, transitioning back and forth between sparse parts and bouncy ones. Her voice rides a predictable chorus pattern predictably and imitably. There should have been a bass line on this one, instead of these predictable ‘boing’ notes – which sounded a lot better when they accompanied a track like “Computer Love” than they do on this very boring and thin sounding dance number. I would give the album a C +, which is a shame because Clendening really brought her voice to this album, and even made some pretty cool tracks, but I feel nothing says this is really original. By comparison, an artist like dodie, who also was big on Youtube and makes very quiet and personal Pop, is way ahead of the game in terms of original songwriting – actually introducing new music into the scene, and not just derivative styles that work. Pop needs not to just be about expectations – it should be original like any other genre. Sia might have made huge predictable anthems later in her career which please the crowds, but take a look at her original work and you will hear immense creativity. I think Anna Clendening is talented and intelligent enough to evolve from this current safe sounding territory, and I have my fingers crossed for her full album, hoping that it is much more memorable and exhilarating than Waves – EP.
3. Official (7)
4. Audio (6)
6. Featuring Remixes
7. Albums (3)