PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Rosie Lowe
I have to thank BBC Radio 6 Music…
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Rosie Lowe
because they are responsible for so much of the music I listen to! I am capable of digging my own stuff and looking out there for what is good but I find the station is expert when it comes to discovering the very finest and most diverse artists. I have been conscious of Rosie Lowe since her 2016 album, Control. Tracks such as Who’s That Girl? and Nicole are glorious. Lowe can switch between the bright and evocative Neo-Soul sound to something chillier, more emotional and intense. Right now, Lowe is turning heads and recruiting new fans with her album, YU. It is a fantastic record and, although it has been three years since her debut, you do not really notice the gap. A lot of pressure is put on artists to follow up on successful artists and I do think that it cases pressure, anxiety and poor results. Cate Le Bon is a comparable artist who released Reward earlier this year – three years from her previous album, Crab Day. YU is a fantastic record from Lowe and one that, like her debut, has that mix of sounds. I think her current offering is more assured, bold and adventurous than her debut. Maybe it is the passing of time or life events that have gone into the music. Whatever the reason, the Devon-born artist is one of the most interesting and promising of the moment.
I cannot compare her work with anyone else and, at a time when we need more artists like Lowe, there is an absence. The way Lowe can fly and glide before swooping down; the layers of her music and the arresting vocals – there are so many different reasons why she is an artist to look out for. Birdsong is the song I first encountered from YU; played on BBC Radio 6 Music, it stuck in my brain instantly and I just love the unusualness of it. That might sound insulting but it really isn’t: the fact is, again, there is nobody like Rosie Lowe so her music has this unique aspect. The reviews for YU have been largely positive; critics keen to add praise and provide their thoughts. CLASH, in their review, had this to say:
“Delivered in Lowe’s trilling vocal, her pointed and pithy lyrics centre on fulfilment and possibility: ‘The Way’ joyously looks at a love-filled future; lead single ‘Pharoah’ asserts the “power in my imperfections that make me”, while even in dark times her independence blisters, as in final track ‘Apologise’, where she quite simply refuses to.
A confident and wonderfully coherent mingling of genres with an impressive roster of collaborators – see Jamie Woon, Jamie Jidell, Jay Electronica – it feels like a huge statement from a relatively new female artist in what’s sometimes a male dominated arena.
‘YU’ is a swagger drenched, masterful treatise from a woman with a new perspective, new weapons, and the confidence to use them. Careful now”.
PHOTO CREDIT: @smedleyshots for CLASH
The Line of Best Fit posted a positive review and they took a slightly different approach:
“I could go on, because YU is also never boring. Skip to any point at any track and there is something rumbling in the background - be it a scatter of hand claps. An extra layer of guitar. A rogue vocal sample. It oozes craft.
And that’s partly because it’s full of artists that are masters of craft. Not just Okumu - there are more players and more voices on this record, from Sam Shephard (Floating Points), Alfa Mist, Jay Electronica to a choir of Jamie Woon, Jamie Lidell, Jordan Rakei & Kwabs on “Birdsong”, which is just showing off.
The only thing that’s lacking on YU is a few more big hooks. “Birdsong” has it. “UEMM” does. “Little Bird” just about does. Some of the other tracks, though beautiful, can sometimes blur into one another, get a bit sluggish (I’m looking at you, “ITILY”).
Though taken as a whole, YU is a wonderful record. Okumu and Lowe are a dream partnership, and along with the rest of London’s modern soul players present on YU and hiding amongst other projects, have way more to give us over the next few years”.
I maintain 2019 is dominated by women. They are making the most original and satisfying albums and I also think they boast more variety than male artists. Rosie Lowe is a great example of the dexterity and brilliance coming from women in 2019.
Not only is Lowe’s music fascinating: when you read interview she has conducted, she is quite revealing and you get all these different jigsaw pieces. That is not to say Lowe is a puzzle but she has complexities and layers that are explored through YU. When speaking with The Guardian a few months ago, she talked about the three-year gap between Control and YU and discussed some of the themes addressed on YU:
“You sense that Lowe, 29, quite enjoys challenging people’s expectations. While she’s aware that the three-year gap since 2016’s debut Control doesn’t chime with music’s voracious appetite for the new, she’s unbothered by the wait. “My favourite artists take 10 years between albums, so I’m always like, pfft,” she says, shuffling into a cross-legged position on the sofa, a pose that, along with her thick elasticated headband and approachable, earth-mother vibe, makes her look like an off-duty yoga instructor. She’s also adamant about crushing any gendered assumptions about who’s in charge of her creativity. In fact, YU’s artwork, which crops most of her face, is a statement of intent. “I didn’t want a pretty black-and-white beauty shot because then I’d be trapped, and it would be less about the music.”
As well as touching on love and religion, YU also continues Control’s focus on feminism (Lowe’s debut featured the excellent Woman, an analysis of unfair standards), with Mango redressing the dynamic in the story of Adam and Eve. She says her feminism was influenced growing up by her mother and sisters, and has developed as she’s got older. “What I think has been prevalent in the last few years is that there’s not one version of feminism,” she says. “I’ve learned my feminism is not the ‘right’ feminism, it’s just my experience of misogyny. Or equality. I think it’s important to remind ourselves of that. A white feminist is going to have a very different experience to a woman of colour because they have to deal with different versions”.
I shall conclude the feature soon but, sticking with interviews, and I was struck by the revelations in The Line of Best Fit’s interview. Lowe chatted about psychotherapy and how that has helped; why she has worked alongside Dave Okumu for YU:
“YU is built upon these relationships; whether cosmic, spiritual, or physical, these unspoken connections are the lifeforce of the record. It becomes clear during our conversation that there are two relationships at the heart of YU – two people in her life that this album probably wouldn’t be possible without. The first is musician and producer, Dave Okumu. After helping to turn her first album Control into reality, YU is as much a reflection of Okumu’s character as it is for Lowe. They have been longtime collaborators but never written together, so this was new ground for both of them. Again, Lowe had to give herself over to someone else for this to work. And luckily, it did.
“I want to work with people long-term, grow and develop with them – which is exactly what me and Dave have done. So we agreed to do this album together, no matter what happened or who was involved,” Lowe says. “We made that commitment to each other and it was natural that it would include writing together. It was actually quite scary going into this process and collaborating with him in that way. We thought, ‘Oh god we hope this works” because we’re best friends and long time collaborators. Luckily it did work and it was beautiful.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Nathan Barnes for The Line of Best Fit
Lowe also studies psychotherapy alongside her musical career. Learning how the mind works has helped her to understand why her mind works in the way it does. Her training has enabled her to recognise her faults and deal with them head-on. Sometimes some problems are too big to face alone, and Lowe knows that she has people around her that can pull her through, as she sings on “UEMM”: You ease my mind / When you’re around it feels so simple to be / but through the night / it’s an empty shadow that stares back at me.”
“On my song. ‘Little Bird’, I actually started writing it about my nephew, who was around one and a half at the time. He was always falling over, taking a few steps, falling over again and hurting himself. I was just watching him. I wrote this song for him to let him know that you shouldn’t be afraid to fall. You’ve got to fall to learn to fly”.
Rosie Lowe is keeping pretty busy over the next few weeks and months. There is promotion still for YU and the business of touring. You can keep an eye on her dates and, if you can, I would recommend you go and see her play. She is a wonderful live performer and you get a different side to the music you do not hear on the albums. If you have not bought YU then snap up a copy because it is pretty damned good. I think it is one of those albums that will challenge for the best of 2019 and it is, as I started out by saying, so different to everything out in the world. Maybe there are not as many big hooks as some would hope for but those more interesting, intimate moments keep coming back to you when you least expect. There is so much detail and depth in YU that you listen over and over because it provides such a hit. I love Rosie Lowe’s music and I do hope we hear many more albums from her. She is a fascinating songwriter and I have read a lot of interview she has given. Lowe is always honest and arresting and, even though I don’t know her, I feel closer to her having read about her – it seems strange but there is this rare power that Lowe possesses! This year has been a successful and busy one for her bit, with so much love for YU out there, there is not going to be rest for Lowe…
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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Rosie Lowe