Rose of Stone/Despite The Day/Sunset.
9.5/10, 9.5/10 & 9.5/10
A woman with guts, brains and a rebellious distain for BRIT School posers. I'm a fan already.
Release date: Tracks available via: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/mar/06/new-band-olivia-sebastianelli
With a beguiling allure, a steadfast work ethic, and a terrific ear for quality, Olivia is sure to rule your head and heart...
and kick you in the nuts whilst she's at it. Olivia Sebastianelli, as you can probably detect from her name, has Italian roots (her dad is Italian). She has quite a curious family. Her mother is an English businesswoman, whilst her Italian dad is tattooed and is a hotrod enthusiast. She is not your usual girl-with-a-guitar, and loves grunge, and the harder edge to music, citing Chrissie Hynde and Debbie Harry as influences. She suffered isolation and bullying during her childhood and is not exactly Amy Macdonald when it comes to her vocals. She has a more haunting tone, and a real conviction to her work. A lot of her storytelling is informed by loss, guilt, revenge and sadness, and has an incredible maturity to her work and attitude. She hates the BRIT School graduates and talent show rejects. The world does not need another Ed Sheeran- someone with no teeth, who is all image and no substance; Sebastianelli has a lot more backbone, talent and wonder to her, and I can fully understand why she hates shallow, fame-obsessed sub-breed; I do too. Music will be rooting for her. Olivia is a child of a past time, and confessed to being opposed to iPods and loves vinyl. In a way she has similarities with the old blues legends and protest singers. She has endured tremendous hardship and internalisation and wants your heart to bleed when listening to her songs, as one suspects her heart bled when writing and singing them. She has a diversely ambitious business plan. She wants to travel the world and reach as many people as possible. But in her soul she would be delighted if even one of her songs changes one person's view on life or made a difference.
Olivia is a big fan of Elvis Costello. Her favourite song is 'Alison', and I was curious as to whether there would be an Costello music on the tracks I was about to listen to. I was in for a lot of nice surprise. She has an album in the works, to be named 'Pebbles'. The title, she explains, refers to the fact that, like snowflakes, no two are alike, and that is what she attests her songs will reflect. There will be range and diversity, and will play like a storybook. A lot of the current stock of solo artists release debut albums that rehash the same sound 11 times, and never really wow you. Sebastianelli will be hot property, and a genuinely inspirational artist who has a brilliant ethic and ethos, and will never to succumb to a Napolean Complex, any time soon. She is incredibly beautiful, striking and sexy; as well as being relateable and having a slight air of vulnerability to her. A lot of lazy journalists compare every male singer who can sing falsetto, to Jeff Buckley; and every woman who has an ounce of soul to her, to Amy Winehouse. The comparisons are always ludicrous and narrow-minded. Olivia's voice and words are her own and spectacular. She can appeal to the proletariat and upper-classes; the men with tears in their eyes, and the women with maternity in theirs. She is raw, but not under-cooked; heart-stopping but life-affirming, and wants you to be moved and inspired.
Her single, and biggest song to date is 'Rose of Stone'. It possesses a casual link to her childhood, and the psychological tumultuousness is reflected within. Her childhood, at times, seems to have been a curate's egg. The video for the song, was filmed outside of the chapel at her former school, where she spent years being tormented and feeling an outcast; a miasmic influence in a sense. The inventory has been compiled and I sat to watch the video, ready to be haunted. I can only describe Olivia's voice with great reverence. It is husky and seductive, filled with emotion and when she sings: "Take a look around/Winter's creeping in", it is evocative and spellbinding in its imagery. The beginning of the video is snapshots of cigarette smoky, half empty coffee cups and empty, wind-rushed rooms; meanwhile Olivia sits behind the wheel of a car, staring listlessly into the distance, explaining "you know as much as I do". Although the song's protagonist is a mere 19-year-old, there is a vast maturity to her voice; it is calming and has the heart of the blues in its mouth. The musical background allows for the vocals and lyrics to shine, and is kept simple; painting the black and white with colours of grey and blue. There is a hint of The Cardigans' 'For What It's Worth' to some of the vocal delivery, and a smattering of Chrissie Hynde in the vocal tone, as well as a bit of a young Beth Gibbons and maybe Bjork too. There are jazz inflections in the background, but the voice is highest in the mix, rightfully spearheading the track, with Olivia singing sweetly and tenderly about a time that was probably not too nice for her. Her lyrics are a potent allegory, and when she sings "lost among the flower blooms", it is a bare-fisted and bare-breasted confession. The luscious musical paradigm, is evocative of smoky Hollywood streets of the '40s. All black and white scenery; thin-lipped heroes taking another drag, whilst staring at a neon sign above a disreputable gin joint. Olivia gives the impression of being forgotten about and there is a great sense of lost, and a lost childhood. The video lends credence to the theory, which shows her looking on mournfully and a collage of visual metaphors are displayed.
With a rapacious guitar strum, that is lighthearted in its insistence, has me thinking immediately of Oasis' 'Wonderwall'. That was unexpected! Before I could conjure images of Liam Gallagher, clad in a parka and sunglasses, hands behind his back, about to sing "Today..." a much more pleasing voice comes to play. It is reminiscent of Hynde again, and has a soothing familiarity to it. The guitar sound, as well as having dabs of Oasis to it, also has a measure of The Bends-era Radiohead and Nirvana's 'Polly' to it. It differently is an intoxicating rock/grunge cocktail, and when we kick into fourth gear, a little before the 1:00 mark, Olivia's voice becomes inflamed and strong. She is on a Harley Davidson, toothpick between her lips, her hair whipping in the wind. Around about 20 seconds later, we kick into fifth, and a slight shift that reminds me of Green Day's 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' in its cool-eyed Strum und Drang. The song also had a resonance of regretful confession and resignation and when Olivia delivers sermon fragments such as: "If the world spins/It stops to burn" and "The sky turns black/the sun is like a lead balloon", Dante is penning another chef d'oeuvre. The lyrics are alarming in their vividness, yet one suspects metaphors for dark memories or current malaise. In that sense they have a lot in common with grunge, and especially pioneers such as Pearl Jam and Soundgarden- the latter coming most to mind. It is the sort of lyric that one would hear on 'Superunknown', yet one has the inkling that Sebastianelli is singing of romance, rather than clinical depression. In fact she has a bona fide sonic range of epic proportions. She can match Alison Krauss and Jessie Ware when she purrs and emotes sweetly; yet when she lets her lungs stretch she becomes a female Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain. The lyrics are sharp and focused on the task at hand, and again display a vast maturity to them. The track is tight and memorable and despite some of its more mordant subject matter, has a peppiness to it, and manages to make you smile as well as frown. It also is demonstrative of the fact that Olivia has no intention of being labelled, boxed-in or defined by current music's standard and critical expectation. She is the sole author of her songs as well, and means that it is purely her voice and talent on display; undiluted by an army of plastic, fatuous producers and so-called 'songwriters'.
There, was to my mind, a bit of gallow's humour on display, during 'Sunset's divinely gentle introduction. I suspected that there was going to be a mood shift soon enough and a harder beat would emerge. I'm delighted to say that that wasn't to be the case. It is simply a stunningly beautiful song, and shows yet another incredible shift. Where as previously we have heard grunge, rock, Britpop, haunting balladry and jazz, now the mood is... folk? Acoustic? It is bloody gorgeous. The guitar work brings to my mind Eva Cassidy, Kings of Convenience and Fleetwood Mac, circa- 'Rumours' (Songbird, Dreams and Gold Dust Woman). Olivia's voice has shades of Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks, in its combination of sexiness and seduction, and also is a near match for Cassidy, and has a similar spellbinding and ethereal, hymnal quality to it. The lyrics have a cynical and betrayed edge to them. There is wisdom and recrimination to be unearthed: "Laugh out loud/though the joke's worn thin"; ruminative wonder: "I could freeze one moment in time", to string-backed photographs of city life: "Urgent traffic lights/Trumpets of doom". There is wit, mystery, and undulation in the themes and scenes conveyed, backed by a simple picked guitar arpeggio. It is a beautiful and delicate number. The music and vocals take you down to the riverside, and hold you in their arms, tenderly stroking your hair, as the sun sets.
Whilst her contemporaries were hard partying and wasting time, Olivia was listening to music, studying and learning. She was learning her craft and building her artillery. In many respects she is ahead of her times. There are not many female talents out there who solely write their songs, play guitar and sing, and have such a refreshing view on music and celebrity. In a sense she belongs with the legendary '60s performers such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake. I guess, coming from the life that she used to have; one of struggle and emotional deciduousness, she could be perceived as an outsider. It is being an outsider which forces you to be good; to be better than 'ordinary' people. I had very similar experiences myself, and have always been on the outside. I immersed myself in words and lyrics and have consecrated a large amount of time to my voice. Seeing what I could do with it, how far it will go and what range it can produce. I hope one day to be able to premiere it, and let it do the talking. For now, Olivia Sebastanelli is showing her peers how it is done. She is a formidable songwriter, with an admirable, adventurous edict; no one from a talent show or BRIT School could ever produce anything like this. She has taken a range of influences, included Costello, and produced something unique and exceptional. As a lyricist she is vastly intelligent and sharp, and can craft lines of poetic soulfulness, as well as dark foreboding sentiment, and pull each off with conviction. Her voice is impressively expansive capable of a delicate hush, to a full bloodied shout, and again she has shades of other singers but sounds like no one else. And from what I have learnt about her as a human being, she deserves to be enormous. She has put a great deal of herself into her music, and deserves so much from it. She adores music, and authentic genuine talent and is a strong and gorgeous woman.
I have only heard three songs from her, and was blown away by them. I love her attitude and personality and am genuinely excited to hear her album. In a year that promises releases from the likes of Laura Marling and The xx, Olivia can proudly stand toe to toe with them. Whatever you do...
... check this musician out and make yourself proud.
Key Track: 'Rose of Stone'.