Kyla La Grange has had a very busy year, one in which she’s released three singles, toured extensively and recorded her debut album. She’s come a long way in a very short space of time; it’ll be little over a year since the release of debut single Been Better by the time Ashes sees the light of day. Some artists opt for a steady ascent – there are plenty about who wait two or even three years before releasing a full-length record – but La Grange has also been moving quickly. She’s made the most of the opportunities afforded to her, and her star looks set to rise even higher off the back of an album that sounds wonderfully accomplished. As well it might – she’s been writing songs since a very young age.
“I wasn’t a very happy child,” she admits when musing on the kind of experiences she writes about. “It led me to write songs and draw pictures – stuff you can do on your own. I have so many booklets of songs from when I was 12 or 13, and they’re so depressing!” She’s clearly drawn to the darker side of life. Enough has been said about how adversity can produce great art, and the idea of the tortured artist has become horribly cliché, as though some of these people sabotage themselves so they can write about it. Not so with La Grange; she’s simply drawing on her past. Much of the material on Ashes deals with four separate, failed relationships, suggesting that the album will prove heavy going; but this doesn’t turn out to be the case. While she will also admit that some of her songs are sad and introverted, a lot of them, like Walk Through Walls, are imbued with a palpable sense of hope.
One facet of her sound that is inescapable, even more so than the way that skeletal folk songs are completely transformed by having a full band behind them (a case in point being the completely reworked version of last year’s Heavy Stone, which is paired with Been Better in the middle of the album to great effect), is her voice. It contains a quiet, compelling power; she doesn’t need to holler and shout such lyrics as “If you fall into my arms, I will keep you fallen / And if you break down in my doorway, I will sleep with you there” (from I Could Be) when the passion can be felt just as easily by reining herself in. In the same way, when she strips things back, the effect of her songs can be magnified, and this is the case with Vampire Smile.
Despite the downbeat and reflective nature of much of the lyrical content on Ashes, it is a remarkably full-sounding listen, thanks in part to La Grange’s backing band, who come into their own towards the album’s close; inventive rhythms and exquisite harmonies give You Let It Go an audible sense of urgency, and the closer Lambs is catchily fleshed out by a layered sound that builds to an irresistible finish. There is plenty of darkness explored across this album’s 11 songs, but there’s also plenty of light. La Grange has indeed risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of what’s gone before, and now is her time to soar.