Unravelling is the debut record of Elise Trouw, an 18 year old American girl, who has racked up 199k Instagram followers (at time of writing). She first gained a following with her impressive drumming skills, gradually introducing her guitar, bass, keyboard and vocal talents. This allowed her to start to advertise live shows, release singles and eventually this album. Playing every instrument on an album is normally a skill reserved only for the best of the best- Prince, Mike Oldfield, Paul McCartney- to name a few, but Elise manages to pull it off like its second nature.
The title track builds up into a funky, bass lead verse that first allows her voice the spotlight. Harmonies are layered in the chorus, perfectly complementing her own voice… with her own voice. The playing is incredibly tight (although I suppose you tend to be pretty similar to yourself, so the chemistry is there), with chords on the keyboards and guitars perfectly matching the tight drum fills, which are scattered throughout the track. From the snare fills that connect the offbeat chords at the end of the chorus, to the subtle hi-hat fills in the verses, it’s something you’d notice even without knowing Elise is a drummer.
[contentblock id=141 img=adsense.png]
‘She Talking’ is possibly the most well known track on the album, having been released as a single. It takes a much more electronic sound than track 1, including a very well made synth sound for that main melody, that’s full of distinctive, lo-fi reverb and delay. The breakdowns and build ups all blend into each other seamlessly, before the songs abrupt ending. This leads into track 3, a mellow, piano led ballad, often in 7/4. The vocal ‘we falter’ in the chorus, follows the same melody as ‘she talking’ in track 2, but at a slower tempo. Whether intentional or not, it gives a sense of connection and flow between the tracks.
The final single released before the album- ‘Burn’ is a percussive, intense track. It’s opening sounds almost ritualistic, with creepy-chant like singing, and some eastern inspired vocal harmony, before a completely contrasting chorus, showing off Elise’s ability to seamlessly blend styles within a song. ‘X Marks The Spot’ is the first song Elise recorded for the album, and it continues to prove Elise’s drumming talent, including a short drum break that leads to a guitar solo, of course, also played by Elise. Throughout the album, she takes on different time signatures. Normally something left to 80’s Prog bands, it is a bold move, especially if you want to appeal to the masses. A groove in 5/4, then, isn’t necessarily the simplest thing to dance to and could leave an audience scratching their heads. So it’s impressive when Elise manages to make track 7, ‘Your Way’ a smooth, jazzy song that doesn’t lead to jolting confusion.
Before we reach the end of the album, Elise continues to prove her grasp of genres, being able to make what could easily be an 80’s funk track on ‘Target’, complete with delayed synth brass stabs and claps. The album closes with ‘Awake’, the song Elise is most proud of, and for pretty good reason. The production is complex and impressive, with a heavy reverb and telephone effect on the kit, making it seem far away, blending with her reflective vocals and the fading synth chords. It is one of the catchiest choruses on the album and the build ups are always satisfying.
Of course, all albums have flaws. A few tracks have a more generic sound that doesn’t fit the album as well as others, such as ‘Illuminate’ and ‘Random Thoughts’. As a first album, it’s to be expected, but the lyrics perhaps don’t stand up against the music, detracting from its impact on some occasions.
But it doesn’t matter, because as a first album, created almost entirely by one person it’s pretty impressive. There are catchy choruses, blended in with complex features that can only come from an accomplished musician and a grasp of a high standard of a lot of instruments, and it’s quite exciting to see what she can come up with next. Hopefully it’s not down a commercialised record label route, and she sticks to the making her music the way she likes it.
GIGsoup spoke to Elise about her release…
What is your favourite song on the album?
What was the hardest song to write/record?
X Marks the Spot was the most difficult, simply because it was the first song I wrote and recorded. It taught me that recordings will often take a new turn you didn’t expect, but it’s important to know when the song is complete.
What first made you realise you’d had success with your music and could make it into a career?
I realised I could pursue a music career when I started putting myself out there. I always knew I wanted to be a musician, but the reality of it became more clear as my fan base grew and I began connecting with other people interested in music.
What is it like to have such a dedicated social media following?
My fans on social media are like my second family. I share my life, experiences, and music with them. I love how social media connect us across continents, age, and language.
What made you decide to focus mainly on drums?
Drums have stuck with me ever since I began playing them. I always find practicing and playing with other people to be meditative and inspiring.
What made you decide to experiment with more complex time signatures?
Being a drummer, I’m always messing around with time signatures, so naturally that bled into my songwriting. I try to keep my odd time signatures as organic as possible in my music. It often comes from the flow of the melody needing longer or shorter bars. Other times, I just start with an odd drum beat that I like and build around that.
What made you decide to play pretty much everything on the album rather than getting session musicians in?
Playing everything on the album allowed me to explore the role of each instrument in the writing process and recording process. It was also just a fun challenge for me to do this!
Who gave you the most inspiration specifically for the sound of this album?
Stewart Copeland influences a lot of my drumming on the album, and Radiohead influenced the overall sound a lot also.
Unravelling is out now via Goober Records.