From busking on the streets of Berlin, Germany, to touring sold-out venues in Europe, Australia, Japan and North America, Alice Phoebe Lou has made a place for her independent personal songs in the music industry. You might have listened to her 2020 single, “Witches,” which quickly rose to popularity with its groovy and cosmic nature.
This past summer, Lou dazzled her fans with her sixth studio album, “Shelter.” As one of her first narrative albums, “Shelter” brings the listener on a journey of heartbreak and self-growth. The album, in its entirety, is only thirty minutes, but it is addictive.
In every one of Lou’s songs, she lets herself shine through. Having never signed to a major label, she ensured that she could make each song her own, singing and playing her guitar however she wanted. Her music transcends a box, pulling inspiration from jazz, soul, rock, funk, folk and electronica, uniquely mixing together in Lou’s own special way.
Watching Lou perform live, you can really see her personality glow. Videos of her performing along the Warschauer Brücke, a bridge in Germany well-known for the vivacious art and music scene on either side, can be found on YouTube. She seamlessly switches between singing, talking and laughing with the audience, all while maintaining a steady beat through her inventive guitar riffs and licks. The videos display Lou’s distinct character as well as her ability to put on a succinct and impressive performance.
Lou doesn’t come to New England too often. As you wait for her return, spend some time listening to her album, “Live at the Funkhaus.” Recorded in 2019 and released in May 2020, this album displays songs off her second studio album, “Paper Castles,” capturing the essence of Lou’s live performances remarkably well.
The album begins with a seven-minute-long rendition of “Something Holy.” The song brings the listener along as Lou uncovers the euphoria of love. The story is evident in her lyrics, but the feelings associated with being truly seen by another person are communicated through the change in pace, the inclusion and exclusion of instruments and her tone and articulation. You can feel the excitement as Lou’s voice quite literally vibrates. Lou sings, “Thank you for showing me that I’m not alone,” over and over until whistlers, hollers and claps from her fans bring the song to an end.
The fourth track, “My Outside,” captures the liberation that comes with learning not to care how others perceive you. Especially for young girls, the importance of how you look and act is ingrained in your mind. Detaching from those imposed thoughts and ideas is difficult. Throughout the song, Lou sings, “I stopped caring too much about my outside” and “didn’t wanna be told what makes a woman look right.” The lyrics are accompanied by upbeat and playful saxophone licks, igniting an ecstatic bug that moves freely throughout the song with the drums, guitar and lyrics.
“My Outside,” is followed by the more somber “Skin Crawl.” According to a profile written on Lou by the New York City based magazine Document, she wrote the song after she was drugged by a stranger. Scared but not paralyzed, this experience increased Lou’s awareness of men’s habits and actions towards herself. The pace and structure of “Skin Crawl” reflect the disgust and anger prevalent in the lyrics. She sings, “Don’t put me on a shelf. I’m not here for your amusement, your enjoyment.”
Through her music, Lou explores her own struggles and pains of growing up as a woman. By doing this, she validates the experiences of her female listeners, uplifting their confidence.
Lou’s personality radiates in “Intro. Paper Castles.” During this instrumental break she introduces the next song and expresses her pride and gratitude for her band and fans. At the end of her monologue, she says, in her unique and silly manner, “I got proudness coming out of my eyeballs.” Although this track lacks a song recorded on any of Lou’s six studio albums, it is a well-positioned surprise and insight into her stage presence.
Another notable song off the album is “She.” A beautiful guitar introduces the song before the beat drops, and you feel the fast-paced energy behind the newfound freedom of the woman depicted in the song. Lou vibrates her words, moving pitches in an unusual way, all while staying in tune.
Lou’s “Live at the Funkhaus” album is a captivating, single-sense showcase of the young artist’s talent as a singer, songwriter and performer. Her vulnerability is uplifting, leaving the listener inspired.
If you have not yet discovered the magic of Alice Phoebe Lou’s live performances, this album is a perfect place to start.