There’s too much irony in pop music today.
Enter Darla Beaux, whose Rebel Soul EP keeps pop simple, and the simplicity is a breath of fresh air. Even by EP standards, RS clocks a brief runtime–5 songs that never cut above the four minute mark, or below the three minute one. The brevity helps Beaux; she’s able to get in, get familiar, show her stuff, and bow out on a high note, leaving listeners to wonder what else she can do.
The immediate takeaway on Rebel Soul is that Beaux has a voice that demands attention. Listening to her on the EP’s first single “Summer Dream” was genuinely surprising; her soulful contralto is first class pop to a tee, but she also performs well. She has a voice that exudes natural talent, and as a performance school attendant and X-Factor auditionee, she has honed her skills way beyond her years. All throughout Rebel Soul, she not only sound great, but shows personality behind her songs. Simply put, she does not like she’s fifteen.
The default approach towards the arrangements is to load them up so that they straddle the line into overstuffed and overproduced, but producer KC Price reigns things in before they get out of hand. On Rebel Soul, it works because Beaux’s vocal style and overall approach favor the classic pop “go big” productions. The EP opts for a pop/soul sound that doesn’t sound overly current, but comfortably fits with modern classicists like Amy Winehouse and Adele, with a little Lily Allen tossed in for a pop bend. She channels Winehouse especially on the EP’s title cut: “Back to Black” style bouncing piano and drums, but intercut with a brass section, and an arrangement that skews more pop than sorrow. Add in some mature but sassy vocals from Beaux that exude confidence (not to mention some great multi-tracking), and you have a natural standout track.
The dolled up ballad “Fallen For You” is the EP’s designated soft song, and it’s plenty enjoyable. The clean guitar, casual drumming, keyboard strings, and overall quiet grace of the song give it the feel of a romantic last dance, but Beaux never sounds sleepy. To the contrary, she’s able to create some drama and tension in the song’s prechorus that makes the bliss of the “I’ve fallen for you” chorus sound earned. She also gets some great, full voiced lines in the verses, and by never pulling back, she makes what could be a sleepy lull in the EP a highlight.
Rebel Soul‘s two other songs–“Sorry Not Sorry” and “Do Right”–aren’t as distinct as the three previously mentioned, but still keep the pace going all the same. “Sorry Not Sorry” makes a groove out of programmed drums and strings with dramatic flourishes in the verses before giving way to a surprisingly pleasant and melodic chorus that’s completed with subtle keyboards. It’s one of the most singalongable moments on the record. Closer “Do Right” is polished dub music (no, not dubstep), a bit of a departure from the sound of the rest of Rebel Soul, but the bright sound makes a great book end with “Summer Dream”. But, the song’s able to stand on it’s own; “Do Right”‘s big, open second half lends itself to Beaux going for broke on belting. It’s a fitting closer to an EP for an artist itching to prove herself.
And, over Rebel Soul‘s 18 minutes, Darla Beaux more than proves herself. With her natural talent and ability to put personality to a tune, Beaux should have a future in music, no matter which genre she sticks with. The pop/soul sound of her debut has broad appeal, but enough substance that it doesn’t feel empty. A lot of teenager singers bill themselves as “I just want to sing”. Darla Beaux makes everyone else want to listen.