Words: Josh Fundafunda
For a while now, I have been trying to get my parents into using streaming services because, despite their stubbornness, I know they will get good use out of it. One evening as I am introducing my mum to streaming playlists titled ‘Made for You’, we come across a song called “Something Holy”. I could not quite put my finger on it at the time, but it ticked boxes I did not know I needed ticking. A quick 40 minutes later and I had listened to my first Alice Phoebe Lou album Paper Castles and knew I had found a new favourite artist.
The South African born singer-songwriter and instrumentalist is currently based in Berlin and has been making great indie-alternative music for a while. Since the time of my discovery, she has put out two more albums alongside a handful of singles, but her discography stretches back to the early 2010’s. Her alternative sound is a breath of fresh air in an admittedly crowded genre. Despite that, I still have not seen much conversation surrounding her music.
Alice Phoebe Lou pictured for her album "Glow'
Photo: The Michigan Daily
The main reason is that Alice is totally independent. Without a label, everything from promotion, to touring and festivals is all set up by her and close friends. That independence plays a huge role in her art. Having the time and freedom to release music when it is ready leads to some pleasant surprises in her music.
It allows her to grow as an artist and explore new opportunities and interests, like her side-project strongboi, a duo between her and her keyboard player Ziv. The duo has been releasing singles on and off since mid 2020, and have just released their first, self-titled, album. That same alternative sound that drew me to her work is still here, accompanied instead by more spacy-synthesised keyboards. Leaning into indie synth-pop is a nice change of pace. The result reminds me of Mk.gee (which is a good thing!), and Alice’s powerful vocals tie it all together. Fans of Alice’s music will find a lot to enjoy here. It is the perfect quantity of bite-size songs in between her main releases.
"This dreamy song is a particularly touching moment on the album – one full of newfound self-acceptance..."
Speaking of those main releases, Alice would soon release another album soon after I discovered her - the much-anticipated Glow. This melodramatic album is probably my favourite of hers; the songs are packed with her sombre guitar and punky breaks as Alice divulges love, loss and acceptance in solitude. Her song writing is something that has kept me coming back to her music time and time again. Her wordplay on this album is particularly raw; the title track is one of the more up-beat songs on offer and while it bursts with energy, it manages to set up plenty of gentle ideas that continue throughout the project. Alice opens the song declaring, “I dance with myself like there is nobody else in the world” setting self-acceptance as a main message. Importantly, as the album slows itself down these ideas are not lost. “Mother’s Eyes” is a great example where she reflects on all the time spent forcing herself to be something she is not; the years spent “trying to squeeze into boxes that didn’t fit all of me”. This dreamy song is a particularly touching moment on the album – one full of newfound self-acceptance.
It was great to dive into this new project so soon after discovering Alice’s music. So you can imagine my surprise to see a surprise album announced late that same year. Child’s Play was released on the second of December 2021 to the shock of all her fans, myself included.
Alice Phoebe Lou in mid-2020, hence the mask
Photo: Wasted Talent
Child’s Play is a lot more light-hearted that Glow. The project is full of warmer guitars that meander from song to song alongside Alice’s vocals. On “Silly”, one of the happier songs on the record, Alice holds back none of her desires to connect. Her repeated lyrics make her unbarred infatuation clear throughout the relatively short song. In many ways these last two albums are two sides of the same coin; her song writing remains as captivating as before, though more cheerful on this record. Even when the album treads towards more sombre territory, the songs are kept very tender. Take the penultimate track “End of the Road”, a song where Alice pulls at your heartstrings and plays them on her guitar. She is constantly questioning herself throughout the song driving home feelings of loss and acceptance. If it were not for the final track and its extended guitar breakdown, this album would’ve ended on a fairly sour note. Thankfully, “Child’s Play” closes the album with what feels like a song set for the end credits of a feel-good rom-com. It is the perfect way to close out the album.
2021 is the last we have heard from Alice, at least in terms of her main stage-name. And as of writing she is in the middle of what seems like an endless world-tour. So, for now I look forward to talking more about her and the great music she is creating.