Coming of Age album review

Album cover (used with artist and label permission.)
Megan Lindsay Photography / Liza Fiers
Album cover (used with artist and label permission.)

Look – I know complaining about this is next-to-useless. Also, in doing so, I am adding yet another facet to the problem rather than taking any sort of step to combat it or fix it. I’m being pretentious. Bitter. Judgemental, even. But I’m gonna go ahead and say it: there are way too many independently-signed, primarily acoustic, same-four-chord singer/songwriters in the music business. And it’s cliché. And I’m tired of it.

Alright, I’m done being theoretical and poetic. My overall point is with the way things work in music these days, the matter of fact is if you’ve heard one indiepop singer/songwriter, you’ve heard them all.

Now, before you give up, check out and be satisfied with Ingrid Michaelson, let me add contingency to my previous sweeping generalization. In the singer/songwriter genre, “You’ve heard one, you’ve heard ‘em all,” unless that particular one has a full grasp of his/her creative capacity beyond their radio-ready hit single: to rephrase, if that particular artist has experienced his or her coming of age.

And now perhaps you can see how I would say current Anderson University senior Elle Worrell (singer/songwriter behind Elle Michelle Music) has developed in her release of her inaugural LP Coming of Age on Sept 30. Two years on Anderson’s music business track has worn on Worrell in a positive manner– evident in the lyrical and musical comparisons between the LP and her “Submarine Heart” single and self-titled EP, released one and two years ago respectively.

These developments are best seen in the parallels of two tracks: “Sleepy Heart” from her EP and “Illusions” her LP. Both of them have a similar feeling of progression, and both swing or waltz as a result of the compound meter. Both are acoustically driven, both fill space with electric guitar. Solid and well-placed in terms of each of their collections, both of them.

And yet the contrast, is vast. On a straight listen through of the EP, the lyrical content of “Sleepy Heart” had become too commonplace. She tells her heart to  “fall asleep…  / until true love wakes you” and I can’t help but wonder if she means it based on the fact that all of the songs on that record (including the outro to follow) were about love: primarily, falling into it. Contrastly, Coming of Age discusses a whole spectrum of topics beyond just love up until “Illusions,” and rather than hitting us with the typical love ballad written to a significant other, Worrell takes us on a journey down the path of self-image. I love it – almost as much as I love the reverse effect on the electric guitar in showing up in the second verse.

Continuing on the path of atypicality, “Now that I’m Gone” is easily my favorite piece of her work to date because of the new stance she takes on love and relationships. It’s honest, unromanticized. The cruelty of humanity that shows its head so often in relationships is exposed in the writing of this track, and the form of the song follows with this being the most driven piece on the record.

Worrell performs at the album release party at Mocha Joe's on Anderson University's campus on
Nikki Edrington
Worrell performs at the album release party at Mocha Joe’s on Anderson University’s campus.

Worrell claims that “Creepy Song” is the track that shows her songwriting mature the least, but the exact opposite seems to be the case. I think there’s a genuine connection with the listener that goes beyond her other love songs: because this one is not perfect. It’s stalkerish, downright creepy and aptly titled. The irony is more subtle and doesn’t need to be stated in the title (as it does in “Corny Love Song”) because it takes a corny love song and etches into a new and unique quirk. Also, I’m a big sucker for the imperfect feeling of leaving talking in the recording, so. Double brownie points for this one.

Quiet Romance” marks a disconnect in the LP. The middle to end of drives the monotony of combination of acoustics, pop kits, and ‘verbed out electric and synths, and also relies heavily on the typical: four chords and verse-chorus-bridge. I appreciate the attempt to break the alteration of the I, VI, V, vi progression with major seventh chords and secondary dominants in “Still Want You.” But a lack of lyrical depth loses me.

This album is far from frontloaded, though. Including instrumental solos in “Not About Me” is daring and works to recapture attention. “Make it Through Today” is the first piano-driven song, and songs similar to it deserve spots on new releases. “Back to Home” poses some of those overarching identity questions that belong on an album about growing up, and that echoes a lot of the themes and topics from the album as a whole. Neat stuff.

These developments as a whole not only show Worrell’s pattern of her own growth, they make way for a broader audience than her previous work could address. It goes to show that singer/songwriters are often compartmentalized to a narrow demographic when their content is entirely based in love and relationships. Worrell instead wrote Coming of Age as a narrative that discusses a broader section of life: from places as lighthearted as stalking a crush you’ve never interacted with to as existential as finding your calling in life. I am fully confident that the number of followers devoted enough to help crowdfund this record (112 who raised an uncanny $10,615) will have expanded as a result of not just the higher quality of recording but all the more so because of the higher quality of content – something I am fairly certain that money can’t buy.

Coming of Age to me, shows Elle Michelle’s proclivity as an artist to creativity over marketability – that popular doesn’t mean impersonal.

Parkway West Pathfinder gives ‘Coming of Age’ 9.1/10

Rad Links:

Check out her Kickstarter Campaign that made this album happen.

Support independent, local-to-midsize-venue-playing musicians so you can claim them when the industry makes them huge: buy (don’t stream) her album here!

Read about some artists who have money but don’t have talent here and here!