October 4, 2013

"Ribs" by Lorde

When I think of ribs and music, my mind goes on a number of insane little journeys. The first is a meandering stroll towards a jingle that captured the hearts and appetites of America with the help of a little group you've probably never heard of.

Further down the paths of musical association I'm drawn to a memory from a Disney movie that we all know and love. You laughed at Pumba's antics, you cried when Mufasa died (spoilers), and you hummed along when this little ditty got stuck in your head courtesy of a captive hornbill trapped within a ribcage.

It's worth noting that these songs have nothing to do with this week's free single, "Ribs" by Lorde aside from my mindless word association. If you haven't heard of Lorde, then you're living under a musical rock. As I write this, her hit single "Royals" is the number one song on iTunes and the Billboard Hot 100. Her managers must be worried that that won't prove to be enough press to promote her new album, so they've cushioned that exposure with a free single.

Despite her number one single, Lorde is still relatively unknown as a person and artist. Her real name is Ella Yelich-O'Connor, and she's a 16-year-old from New Zealand making it big early in her musical career. Her EP, The Love Club, was met with critical acclaim, and she later ushered her hit single "Royals" onto the world music scene. All of this has spiraled into a whirlwind of press and attention over the course of about five months and is culminating now in her first full album, Pure Heroine. It's electric-infused alt-pop with a musical maturity not expected out of someone her age. Compound this sound with her smooth, mezzo voice and her poetic lyrics and you've got an artist that deserves all the attention she's getting. But don't take my word for it - let's listen to this week's example.

It's a slow build into this track - very ethereal, almost uncertain and suspenseful. It takes almost 50 seconds, but the bass drum kicks in and Lorde graces us with the tender low range of her voice. She does an interesting thing with her lyrics where she sings them first in a slow, half-time fashion and then reworks them a second and third time at double the speed. As the lyrics kick into high gear the layered harmonies swell in the background and the drums become more active, building the tension of the song. It's the most variety you get out of this song, which is very monotone alternating between just a few chords. The real draw of "Ribs" is Lorde's lyrics. She spits many of them out so quickly that they can barely be understood, but it's a classic story.

"This dream isn't feeling sweet. We're reeling through the midnight streets.
And I've never felt more alone. It feels so scary getting old.

I want them back, the minds we had, how all the thoughts moved 'round our heads.
It's enough to feel the lack. I want 'em back, I want 'em back.

You're the only friend I need, sharing beds like little kids.
Laughing 'til our ribs get tough, but that will never be enough."

True to her age, she's written a song about that teenage relationship that you grow out of. If it's not the first relationship you have, it's one of the first. It's fun, but it's shallow, and as you grow older you realize that it's not enough.

This song is not an easy listening kind of song, but I don't think that it's supposed to be. The hectic swells and dips of the song mirror the frantic mixed emotions surrounding a relationship that has to end. It's not comfortable to listen to, but it's a really compelling work of musical storytelling, and a good example of the artistry Lorde is capable of.

If "Ribs" isn't your bone of choice, there are other tracks worth listening to off of The Love Club and  Pure Heroine. "Royals" is, of course, extremely popular. An uncomplicated bass beat and beautiful harmonies package this commentary on pop culture's obsession with wealth, and how to cope as a teenage surrounded by images of unobtainable luxury. I'm a big fan of "Tennis Court", one of her original singles - it's a little more on the electric side, with bass synth hums that let you zone out. "A World Alone" is another great lyrical work with catchy vocal riffs you can catch on to. Her EP's title track "The Love Club" is a bouncy song that covers up a tragic story about the popular girl in high school. "Bravado" is another one worth listening to off of her EP, as she tells her story of concocting inner strength.

If you haven't inferred already, let me say it outright - I love this gal in a non-creepy, fan-artist kind of way. I am blown away by what she has been able to accomplish at age 16 and how powerful her music is in spite of her age. I hope she's successful in her first round of tours (which I'm sure we'll see soon) and I can't wait to see a second album out of her in a couple years. As far as promising young artists go, she is an alpha female in my book, even if "Ribs" isn't my favorite of her songs. iTunes is furthering her popularity with a low-key track off the album to generate some buzz, and I give that track...

3 out of 5

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