Chamber pop perfection
It seems like a gulf of time since Princess Chelsea’s last studio album outing The Great Cybernetic Depression graced us with its presence. We summed up the 2015 album in our review at the time as “…a solid collection of electronic tunes that trades on themes of lost love and regret.” But it was also an album that proved to be a draining experience for Chelsea. Taking 3 years to produce – and with an extensive tour after – resulted in the New Zealand musician deciding to take things a little slower aftwerwards.
As a result, the Aftertouch album provided a welcome change of gear. Featuring an assortment of cover versions that Chelsea had produced over a 5 year period, that album also provided a window into the diverse range of influences and artists that Chelsea found favour in, including the likes of Interpol, Nirvana and a stunning version of the Marianne Faithfull song ‘Morning Sun’.
Back in 2012, the Princess Chelsea debut album Lil’ Golden Book had balanced quirky electronica alongside an indie pop sensibility. In an interview with TEC at the time, Chelsea touched on the foundations for this intriguing approach: “I think my main influences came from my classical background and then I’ve got a love of Kraftwerk and electronic music as well as a love of pop music.”
There’s common elements on much of Princess Chelsea’s musical output, including a talent for glacial pop melodies; euphoric lifts and an often wry sense of humour lyrically. Songs such as ‘Frack’ (from her Lil’ Golden Book album) perhaps serves as a fine example. Check out the video that features a gleeful Chelsea initiating a planet-levelling genocide in the service of a pop song.
Getting over that third album hurdle is a tricky prospect for any artist, so The Loneliest Girl has to measure up to the previous two outings, while also being careful not to simply be a retread of past glories. But Chelsea approached the album with the mindset that just repeating herself would be pointless. While a lot of elements that make up a Princess Chelsea release are present and correct, the album directs its themes to self-reflection and the passage of time. At the same time, it aims for a much brighter musical palette than The Great Cybernetic Depression had employed.
Certainly, the brief album opener ‘The Deer With The Golden Lights’ delivers a celestial reverie that will strike the heart. There’s a hymnal quality at work here for an instrumental number that acts as an overture of sorts for the album.
‘Good Enough’, with its organ arpeggios and Chelsea’s airy vocals, sounds at times like a lost Virginia Astley song. Its lyrical tale of love and kitchen sink drama is given an additional boost by the addition of Jonathan Bree’s backing vocals, his bassy tones lending a nice contrast to the tune.
The sober bass guitar tones that introduce the torch song outing of ‘I Love My Boyfriend’ sets the scene for another tune that delivers some of the wickedly dark humour that Chelsea loves to play with. Torn between the boyfriend and another boy that drives a fickle nature: “Although I know it’s only chemistry/there’s not a thing in the world that I can do about it”. Meanwhile, plucked notes pepper the song presenting a charming pop moment.
One of the album’s finest moments is the pastoral synths of ‘Wasting Time’, which is effectively an observational piece in which Chelsea considers the lives of people summed up as “waiting around to die”. But the song’s euphoric chorus – with choral elements – throws a stark contrast to the morbid lyrical content. Meanwhile, the strident percussion marches the song along in fine style.
There’s a more reflective approach on ‘I Miss My Man’ which benefits from an uplifting chorus that’s built around smooth synth washes.
Elsewhere, the title track channels Saint Etienne for some indie pop goodness. As with much of the other tracks on the album, ‘The Loneliest Girl’ tells a narrative of love and loss (“Is it better to love her and lose him/she’s the loneliest girl”).
‘It’s Nothing’ draws inspiration from the fleeting relationships people enjoy online. It’s a charming musical sketch with its xylophone melodies and swelling organ elements, lending a bubblegum pop quality to the song. It’s also another musing on internet culture (recalling the likes of Lil’ Golden Book’s ‘Ice Reign’).
There’s a chance of pace with ‘Respect The Labourers’ – an oddly sepulchral tune that pretty much does what it says on the tin: a celebratory tune dedicated to construction crews (“And with their hard hats on/they do all the things that we would not”). A mournful violin opens the song while Chelsea’s voice takes on an evocative air. Swelling strings, meanwhile, give the whole odd piece a romantic air.
One of the songs that put Princess Chelsea on the map originally was ‘The Cigarette Duet’, whose video has since garnered over 40 million YouTube views. Here, Chelsea offers a brief vignette of that song on ‘Cigarette’, which delivers a snippet of the song’s classic melody.
‘Growing Older’ offers a reflective piece on the age (“Growing older is not as scary as I always thought it would be/just because you’re not as pretty doesn’t mean you’re not happy”). It’s a very stripped-down composition with its gentle piano and focus on Chelsea’s captivating vocal.
Closing the album out is a personal recollection that looks at Chelsea’s life so far. A gentle shuffle beat offers a foundation for this window on her life (“I’ve been making music for about 11 years/ I stay inside on summer days I’ve drifted from my friends”). Including little reveries on the music of Bruce Springsteen or tackling her parent’s wish that she have children, the lyrical narrative focuses on the act of making music (That idea of keeping active reflects back on the sentiments echoed on ‘Wasting Time’).
For those yet to venture into the fairytale world of Princess Chelsea, The Loneliest Girl offers the perfect opportunity to sample one of the more intriguing artists at work in the electronic music scene.
The Loneliest Girl is out now on Lil’ Chief Records.
Princess Chelsea performs at The Shacklewell Arms, Dalston, London tonight. Ticket details: https://www.seetickets.com/event/bad-vibrations-presents-princess-chelsea/the-shacklewell-arms/1241675
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.