Rating: ★★★★★ Grace VanderWaal is on a roll. The rapidly ascending singer/songwriter opened 2019 with a brooding single called “Stray.” She closes the year out with a brand new six-song EP entitled Letters: Vol. 1. And just what did she accomplish in between? I’m glad you asked. Miss VanderWaal released a soundtrack single for a major motion picture (Wonder Park), opened a handful of gigs for none other than Florence and the Machine, entertained a massive crowd at the Railbird Festival in Kentucky, before taking to the road for a sold out headlining tour of her own. Oh, and did I mention she had to squeeze all that in while keeping her grades up in school? You won’t hear me complain about my schedule ever again.
Listening to the tracks on the new EP, it’s easy to hear the time and effort that has been spent on creating this collection. The songs here are fresh and focused, filled with determination and life. The opening track, “Intro (Gucci Shoes),” is a short, playful piece. The lyrics seem poke fun at the vanity of self-make overs, of trying to be something other than who or what we really are:
I just bought some new Gucci shoes
Wasted my college funds just to look cute
Forty minutes to look like I did it in two
Maybe I am vain, so are you
So I got a new wig, got some new clothes
Then made some new friends that I don’t even know
And I got a new wig, got some new clothes
I learned a new dance, got a new nose
This theme runs through other songs as well. “Poser,” the second track in the collection, speaks to alienation and being fake, a poser, a person maybe not comfortable or confident in her (or his) own skin.
“I Don’t Like You” is another take on the age-old notion of being in love with somebody that you just don’t like. You simply cannot live with this person any longer—despite what you may still feel in your heart. This is a catchy number, one that will have fans singing along with VanderWaal for years to come, whenever she breaks it out during her live shows.
“UR So Beautiful” is a gem of delicate beauty; one of those songs that sticks in my head long after I’ve put my iPod away. It’s the vocal that sets the mood and carries with it a gentle vibe threaded throughout the song.
My current favorite of this collection has to be “Waste My Time.” As with the first track, there’s a playfulness embedded within the song. But there’s also a 1970s-esque bounce beneath the foundation of the track, one that will most certainly have them dancing in the clubs. I’ve said this elsewhere, but it deserves repeating: get this young lady a bass player, and her live band will rival the best in the business.
The final song in the collection is a guitar-driven piece called “The City.” Loneliness and frustration portray the lyrics in a melancholy haze. Grace’s vocal is both pleading and dismissive all at once, needing and wanting, but so over that selfish somebody. In this track I hear potential for lots of radio air play—or maybe as the soundtrack to a movie break-up scene.
Letters: Vol. 1 is solid from start to finish; it’s some of Grace VanderWaal’s best material thus far. If I were to utter a single negative, I would say it’s simply too short. But I’ll not lodge that complaint. I choose to be grateful for this wonderful bounty of new music.