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Love 'Em & Leave 'Em Reviews

Romantic Resonance: Celeste is Not Your Muse

Love ‘Em & Leave ‘Em:
TGG’s Valentine Special

UK soul singer-songwriter, Celeste released her debut album, Not Your Muse just in time for Valentine’s Day. From the romantic cover art to the project’s overall themes of love and loss, Celeste and her team knew what they were doing when they released in late January. Celeste, who has been on the radar since 2018, has seen a steady and gradual career incline, with accolades building in her treasure chest by the pound. The 26-year old is bringing back sounds of old with jazz and blues influence and a one-of-a-kind voice. The artist credits the loss of her father as motivation and inspiration to further her passion for purpose and music, telling Evening Standard, “Until that point my life had been rosy to an extent. It shocked me. Then after that I had so much more drive to do something I cared about. I focused everything on doing music from that point.”

“This song is like a conversation with an old friend.”

– Celeste on “Ideal Woman,” via Apple Music

On the album’s intro, “Ideal Woman” we have Celeste’s velvety voice singing against societal standards of what embodies an ideal woman. Coincidentally, the track just so happens to be constructed just like my version of an ideal woman: unexplainably sensual and almost effortlessly commanding of attention with humility and grace. The track, produced by Josh Crocker and Charlie Hugall, is the perfect foreplay for the main event that is the rest of the album. From the slow creep of guitar and gentle, modest chimes to Celeste’s smooth-as-butter voice, “Ideal Woman” lets you think it’ll do one thing just to do something different entirely. Just as you expect a sonic or vocal swell, production slows and Celeste takes a right when you’ve anticipated a left, resulting in the unavoidable tap of the “repeat” button.

“I took a much quieter and softer approach that was informed by the chord progression, but also, I was trying to conceal the fact that my voice was weaker. I had such a clear and loud thought: ‘This is an important song. Take your time with it.’”

– Celeste for The New York Times, on recording “Strange” during a wildfire

Following the intro is the project’s lead single, “Strange,” which was originally released in 2018 on the artist’s EP, Compilation 1.1. The track, which was previously featured on TGG, is what propelled Celeste into the spotlight, incurring international discussion of the artist’s future endeavors. The deluxe version of the album features the original, extended version of this track with an additional chorus and bridge. Recorded in LA during a wildfire, Celeste gives credence to the smoke in the air for the rasp heard in her voice at the time of recording. Those gravelly vocals gracefully escort us through a somber tale as old as time: the evolution of love and loss, by choice or by fate.
Picking up the pace and picking our jaws up off the floor, upbeat singles, “Tonight Tonight” and “Stop This Flame” come next on the project. The video for “Stop This Flame,” a tune about keeping love alive, sees the colorful city of New Orleans painting the scene.

On Not Your Muse, Celeste brings different varieties of love– romantic, familial, self– to the forefront. The album’s title track is a slow burn that gradually grows into a raging fire. The zenith of the project, the song is placed smack dab in the middle of sequence. The record deconstructs the dated damsel-in-distress and manic-pixie-dream-girl tropes with a delicate nature and beautiful simplicity only Celeste can dispense. Tugging gently on our heartstrings, “Beloved” is a declaration of longing. On the track, Celeste croons a letter written to a love unrequited. With its almost adolescent yearning fueled by the purest of intentions, “Beloved” holds its place as my favorite track on this project.

Immediately following the gentle plucky instrumentation on “Beloved” comes horn-infused ear-candy “Love Is Back.” The impenetrable swagger heard on this track is succeeded by the haunting, drifting mystique found in “A Kiss.” Continuing the trend of romance, the next track, “The Promise,” is a pledge of recommitment to an old flame.
The transition from one track to the next here is an example of what I like to call “peaks and valleys” in a body of work. Where there is a rise, there’s sure to be a fall. It’s almost as if Not Your Muse is its own breed of love story, with a prologue of self-love and self-acceptance, love coming and going throughout until finally, bittersweet acceptance with the project’s outro, “Some Goodbyes Come With Hellos.” With a damn near perfect debut, Celeste has managed to bust down the doors of 2021 with lyrical finesse and a natural talent that’s yet to be matched. Not Your Muse will remain in my personal rotation until further notice. If you’ve got time to sit down with the album, without distraction, I would highly recommend doing so.

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UMI – Introspection

Seattle-born UMI released her second EP, Introspection, at midnight last night with J.J. Abrams’s independent-focused record label, Loud Robot. The 6-track EP comes after her 2019 project, Love Language. Like its predecessor, a visual EP dropped concurrently with the project, which the artist teased on Twitter, three days prior to the EP’s release.

The project was written in the times of isolation, during which the artist also began documenting her journey through “quarantine” in the form of vlogs on her YouTube channel.

Introspection begins with the title track, which was released as the EP’s first single in May. UMI’s hazy vocals over a languid beat prepares us for her insights throughout the EP: “Why I’m so afraid to fight back, I got a lot of shit to unpack,” reminding us that now is a great time to look within. The artist was quoted by Broadway World Music, saying the project is “…a look into my mind, how my brain sounds,” the artist continued, “I created this project with the intention to evoke Introspection, both in myself and in the listener. Introspection is a reflection of my inner journey over the past year, embodying my growth.”

The project continues with the EP’s remorseful second single, “Open Up.” On this track, the artist continues her inward-seeking journey of self-analysis, addressing her own emotional detachment in relationships and the guilt that comes along with prematurely closing a chapter due to fear.

Continuing the theme of mental health, UMI advises overcoming emotional barricades to allow for healthy vulnerability in “Where I Wander.” The artist croons, “No more time to loosen up yourself / No need to keep fighting what you’re dealt / You must take precaution in this Hell.” The track accentuates the importance of facing your fears head on. The following tracks, “Bet” and “Broken Bottles” seem to touch on the detriment of toxic egoism in relationships, romantic and familial.

The 21-year old artist has said she’s drawn heavy inspiration for her music from artists like SZA and Lauryn Hill. Although the derivative is evident, the young artist has managed to hone her own Neo-Soul sound while still paying homage to those who came before her. 8/10

Watch UMI’s Introspection (The Film):