Lyla Foy - Mirrors the Sky

On her debut record, Lyla Foy crafts lush and well-rounded electro-pop brimming with heart and warmth.

Additional Info

8.4

ALBUM: Mirrors the Sky

ARTIST: Lyla Foy

2014

Alternative

As a musician, Lyla Foy has always had an air of mystery. Before she chose to record under her own name, she adopted the name WALL to modestly release her music under. Now that she’s dropped the moniker, the London-based Sub Pop signee transfers that air of mystery to her debut record Mirrors the Sky, a dynamic yet intimate electro-pop masterpiece that showcases her strengths in melody and musical arrangements. But underneath the music is a big heart that drives these songs forward. Her consistently smooth voice is often the central binding element in this output of instrumentally varied arrangements, firmly anchoring the songs in a special emotional space that’s all her own and yet immediately accessible. The sheer honesty in her words and music make this album one of the most refreshing debuts of the year.

The album starts off on a very somber note with “Honeymoon.” The tempo is so slow that it feels as if time is moving through maple syrup. Her sultry vocals barely piercing through the minimalistic electronic atmosphere serve to reel you into her sonic dream world. In fact, the record as a whole captures this dream-like quality as if pressing play on the record opens a little box of wonders that completely encapsulates the listener in a lush pillow of sound. Understandably, it’s one that sounds the best on a good sound system turned all the way up to hear every little sonic nuance that she throws in and embrace every climax. And with an impressive vocal range like her’s, there are many.

Foy is especially great at musical builds. Her songs find a lot of strength in the succession of sonic layers that play off of each other in a pleasantly compatible way, utilizing a mix of synthesized and organic elements. Immediately following the compelling but ultimately one-note album opener, “I Only” starts off with a simple beat but evolves beautifully with the systematic addition of keyboard flourishes that build up the song to a refreshing high. In “Someday,” the penultimate track of the record, a somber mood pierced with minimalist guitar backing manages to keep its musical subtlety yet build to a cathartic point with the well-timed addition of a backing beat and other guitar textures. It reaches a sublime musical high similar to one by a High Violet-era National—a cacophony of pleasant sounds in an otherwise mellow environment. Foy’s arrangements show her talent in mixing an array of diverse sounds often not heard in the same context to achieve musical and emotional clarity sought out by many.

Foy’s music is a beautiful thing, but her voice is something else. It’s simple and sweet without the standard bells and whistles, yet she manages to use it as one of her most dynamic instruments. Her vocal range is impressively wide and she uses this to craft the most soaring of melodies. This is especially true on “Easy,” where her somber and eerie vocals in the verse are immediately uplifted by a quick jump to her falsetto in the chorus. She uses it as a powerful emotional tool, much like Lykke Li in her most recent record especially. The only downside to her vocal abilities is that her lush vocal delivery, often buried in a sea of reverb, makes it hard to understand her lyrics. Her hushed tone creates a very intimate mood, but many of her words are lost in the process. A great outcome of this is that it causes you to pay attention even harder to the songs. Luckily, her words become less obscured as the record goes on.

The subject matter of her lyrics seems to revolve around a wedding, and the past and present emotions surrounding that. She seems to be struggling with some inner demons, but tries to be optimistic about the future. The opening track references a honeymoon, where she remarks that she “gave up on being down.” At times, it feels like she’s talking to her significant other, like in “Rumour,” where she urges them to “take this ring from my finger [and] see how it mirrors the sky.” By the end of the record, she’s reached some peace with herself, as she seems to promise to herself, “When it begins to be spring, I hope we’ll keep no secrets to ourselves.” The emotional narrative that unfolds is both personal and greatly relatable.

In a growing landscape of electronically-enhanced music, it’s sometimes hard to move past the idea that electronic music can show sparks of humanity. But there are many exceptions, especially recently, disproving this standard. Sylvan Esso’s debut is a great example of this, and of course we move back to Lyla Foy. Her unique brand of electro-pop on this record shows that it’s possible for electronically punctuated music to possess undeniable warmth. – Hailey Simpson

“Memory, don’t fail me now/Raise a candle to that night”

1. Honeymoon
On this opening track, Foy manages to make you feel like you’re floating in slow motion. A dreamy and ethereal soundscape is molded from the very beginning with a light keyboard atmosphere that’s modulated to a perfect level. It almost sounds like you’re inside a reverbed out music box. Her sultry vocals bring it to the next level, adding the lushest of textures to an already lush soundscape. The only downside is that the lyrics are obscured by this heavy layer of production. But while it’s hard to understand what she’s saying, her voice as an instrument is a gorgeous thing that builds the song up to a soaring climax.8.5
2. I Only
If the last song was a reverbed music box, this one is a reverbed video game. More upbeat than the last, it shows her musical range in changing up tempos for creating a different-feeling beat. Although it feels different musically, the mood conveyed is very similar to the last with her smooth vocals and harmonies creating a nice foil to the beat-laced background. Layers of keyboard are systematically added for that slow build that she’s very good at. There even seems to be some strings by the end! Even for such a well-rounded sound, it’s the little things that keep the music interesting.8.0
3. Impossible
In this track, guitar takes the musical forefront for the first time. As she did with the keyboard in the first track, Foy manages to find the perfect kind and amount of distortion in the guitar tone that keeps the lush atmosphere going. The soundscape is much more minimalist this time, with a very simple beat and some guitar riffs. This gives an environment for her vocals to really shine. Her vocals are as lush as ever and her harmonies, just as evocative and dreamy. The repetition of, “Can’t run back,” layered over the background vocals intoning, “Turn around,” create such an emotional high. It’s such a good payoff for the sparsity in the beginning.8.5
4. Rumour
At the start of this track, guitar strums and an echoing drum beat give off a peculiar waltzy vibe, as if it could be the soundtrack to the first dance of a somewhat dark wedding. The chord progression is particularly sultry, but her vocals even more subdued. However, they intensify in the beautifully soaring chorus. Continuing with the vague themes of marriage, she drops the album title in this one with the line, “Take this ring from my finger; see how it mirrors the sky.” These two components give this otherwise bland song some life.7.5
5. Easy
A lush minor chord progression on keyboard starts this track off, her vocals coming in next to create a very intimate but glum vibe. An interesting beat adds another layer, but the mood is weighed down by the minor key. However, the chorus immediately brings the song back up. Its major key and falsetto vocals bring a much happier feel before she returns to the minor verse. The balance created from this contrast is something very special and provides a very unique mood that differentiates it from the previous tracks.8.3
6. No Secrets
The starting thump of the guitar gives off an ominous feel, but Foy’s sweet vocals break the tension almost immediately. This track is musically very minimalist, with the guitar keeping a simple beat throughout and the keyboard adding some flourishes. By keeping the background static, her impeccable vocal range takes the main stage on this one. It feels like she’s conveying a triumphant breakthrough, especially considering the lyrics repeated throughout, “When it begins to be spring, I hope we’ll keep no secrets.” It’s quite a stunning cycle.9.0
7. Only Human
When Lyla Foy adopts classic pop structures, she does it so well. She spruces up the verse/pre-chorus/chorus/verse cycle to create one of the catchiest songs in recent memory. It starts off with a cycle of three keyboard chords and her subtly intoned vocals, almost singing in a whisper. Marimbas accent the pre-chorus and a synthetic beat puts a cool sheen on the chorus. It’s the most predictable of song structures, but this is such a lush swirl of dreamy sounds that it doesn’t really matter. Be prepared to be humming this one for days.8.7
8. Feather Tongue
Recalling the 8-bit video game-esque synth lines of “I Only,” this track provides a nice contrast to the bundle of guitar-forward minimalist tracks prior. It has one of the most interesting beats on the record and very cool-sounding modulated synths. In the verse, a glitchy synth provides a nice counter-melody to her ever-soaring vocals. However, the chorus seems way too reminiscent of “Only Human” in melody and chord progression, which is unfortunate considering they’re back to back. If the chorus was most innovative, this would be a sure winner.7.9
9. Someday
After the synth-driven interlude of the last track, we return to guitars. This track starts off as a simple guitar ballad with some sober undertones. Her vocal melody, sung softly, is almost reminiscent of a lullaby, a sad one at that. But when she goes up the scale and ends on a literal high note, it sounds absolutely perfect. Her synthesized percussion makes an appearance after the verse to break the mood a little bit, and the sound continues to grow until it reaches a wonderfully pleasant cacophony of sound in the instrumental break.9.2
10. Warning
On the final track of the record, she brings in symphonic band. From a clarinet round in the opening seconds, to an off-kilter drum beat and some piano and horn accents, this one pulls all the stops in terms of instrumental diversity. Unfortunately, it’s not too memorable, but the combination of layers of harmonizing vocal tracks and the slew of instruments make for a very charming finish to a wonderful record.8.0
Written by Hailey Simpson
Now attending college at UC Berkeley, Hailey's main passions in life are attending every concert she possibly can while keeping up with her studies, drinking copious amounts of Philz Coffee, and spinning tunes on her college radio station KALX.



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