By Paige Daniel
Rae Morris is new to the pop that her second album, “Someone Out There,” is steeped in – but she is familiar with good songwriting. When those two elements come together, Morris obliterates the sophomore slump into mere myth.
I had not become acquainted with Morris until she started promoting “Someone Out There” with its second single, “Do It.” For such an outright pop song, Morris seems unconcerned with the regular trappings of a pop career – no flashy music videos replete with synchronized choreography or outlandish scenarios, no attempts to hurriedly solidify an “image” that is somewhat forcibly induced, unintentionally drawing themselves into an aesthetic or sonic box.
Pop musicians are rightly concerned with the extras (or, alternately, the expectations) that come along with the job, especially when it comes to the American market.
It’s just refreshing to see Morris confidently tread the path without the extras. Where some may have to rely on those extras to bolster or supplement the music they are putting out, Morris’ music is strong enough without them.
Her first album was cluttered with one too many ballads, in the vein of the singer-songwriter genre that saturates the waters across the pond. Morris herself is British, but she wrote and recorded much of “Someone Out There” in Los Angeles, California.
She breaks away from the balladry to offer more variety on this album, and finds herself tipping into keyboard synths instead of the strings and piano of her previous work.
There is a wide-eyed buoyancy to “Someone Out There,” a quality Morris shares with many other pop artists singing about the foibles of being young and looking (or not looking) for love. Morris is not solely servicing that genre expectation, though. There is a maturity and a sincerity embedded in Morris’ pop that is, to evoke the cliché, a breath of fresh air.
“Push Me to My Limit” is a glacial opener that serves the same auditory purpose as an orchestra tuning up. It is a brief preface to one of the centerpieces of the album, the marching “Reborn,” which has its production values focused on a hypnotically repetitive pattern that recalls the electronic experimentation and grandeur of Björk.
The fizzy “Atletico (The Only One)” finds her trading out the driving vocal plateaus required by “Reborn” for a nimble vocal delivery that hops up and down the scale, making it not only a talented feat on Morris’ part but the most sheer fun of the whole tracklist.
The middle section of the album slips appropriately into mid-tempo contemplation; “Wait for the Rain” is enveloped in the best kind of pop catharsis: an extended water metaphor that ends in Morris’ steely tones reaching skyward.
“Lower the Tone” is a touchingly vulnerable slow burn, vocoder lending the song a hushed timbre that further diversifies the album. “Physical Form” and “Someone Out There” are perfectly okay ballads, but they end up falling short of the great left-field pop songs “Dip My Toe” and “Rose Garden.”
Where “Dip My Toe” has a persistent beat, “Rose Garden” exemplifies an effective and surprising tonal shift between the verse and the chorus, and it supplies the most experimental song structure Morris plays with. If the production on “Rose Garden” wasn’t striking enough, the empathic subject matter gives it a discernible heartbeat.
None of the tracks are filler; Morris means what she says and her earnest vocals back her up on that. The lyrics can be ham-fisted at times, but that is easy to forgive upon arriving at the closing track, “Dancing With Character,” the inspiration for which she culled from her best friend’s grandparents.
What works for her on every song is the healthy balance of innovative pop and sincere emotion. When every song is doing something unique, that is hard to pull off – but she does it.