Pristine chords materialize in slow motion, conjuring a decadent melody in their wake. Their existence isn’t synthesized, yet it isn’t quite real – at least not until Carly Hanley starts to sing. In the first few bars of her new single “Ooh La La,” listeners sift through a plethora of sonic tones layered on top of each other, each one flush with color and acrylic percussive resonance. Hanley’s vocals brush up against the tidal wave of sound growing beside her, her concentration unwavering, her focus unclouded by the glare of the instruments bearing down on her. We ascend a gritty hillside that gives way to a poignant chorus, and without warning, we find ourselves in the center of a musical whirlpool intent on ripping us asunder and into the soul of its creator.
The percussion picks up a little as we continue into the second stanza, creating a bit of kindling with the blustery bassline, which has been artfully pressed towards the bottom of the mix. Rather than shaping the rhythm of the track altogether, the bass adds texture to the backend that makes the song feel well-rounded and complete. Even when a soaring melody is trying to flatten out the organically structured chorus, our attention is still squarely on Hanley, who sings with a beautifully commanding confidence that is infectious and lighthearted. It’s a refreshing change from the gloom and doom that has populated the Top 40 as of late, and better yet, it isn’t self-righteous in its positivity.
As “Ooh La La” broaches its almost clubby conclusion, all of the built-up tension and emotion are released in a single cathartic swoop, exploding in the form of a powerful instrumental breakdown. A powerful post-climax from Hanley brings everything to a close with the shattering lines that form a cluster of melodic fireworks right where we’re least anticipating them. With this, the music fades away, and while Hanley has now sung her song and the instruments backing her have ceased to collide and harmonize together, the weight of her words has only just begun to sink in.
Pop music isn’t always effective at transmitting emotional, personal statements about our humanity, but in the case of Carly Hanley’s “Ooh La La,” the barrier between artist and audience is completely and utterly absent. Hanley decimates the most intimidating of harmonies in this song with her agile prose and provocative vocals, which rank among some of the most captivating I’ve heard this year. “Ooh La La” is a rare instance of pop taking itself seriously and yielding larger-than-life results that don’t ask much from the listener in exchange for a smorgasbord of tonality and passion. Expect great things out of this artist soon; for my money, this genre of music doesn’t get much more cutting lyrically and musically than it does here, and in an era woefully addicted to ego, it’s perhaps the shot of vitality steeped in selflessness that we need out of both the pop genre as well as the American underground in general.
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