It doesn't come around often, but every now and then a seemingly ordinary musician goes from singing a popular Lady Gaga song at an open mic night to writing, funding and releasing an EP without any label support; from reaching number ten on the UK album charts to selling out her first headline tour within two days; from becoming the best selling independent UK artist of 2012 to surpassing over 100 000 records sold within two years; from beating Adele in the charts to opening for Taylor Swift at one of the biggest musical events of British summertime - and she’s not done yet. As a firm believer in supporting local talent it wasn't too long until the name Lauren Aquilina began cropping up on my radar. From the moment I bought her debut EP Fools I knew I was in for the long ride, and nearly four years and four EPs later I’m finally holding her debut album in my hands.
Aquilina's roots hail back to the country of Malta, with her success bringing her a newfound role as a Maltese icon, being asked to represent the small nation in Eurovision multiple times much to her bemusement. However, Aquilina’s stomping ground isn't in a small country fifty kilometers south of Italy: it’s in a British city 3000 kilometers away from Malta. Twenty one year old Lauren Aquilina’s career took its first big step in the city of Bristol in South West England with the release of her debut EP Fools, written fully by Aquilina and pal Daniel Goudie. Fools acted as the first in Aquilina’s three-part EP series, with the remaining two parts, Sinners and Liars coming in the following years. The trilogy told the story of a relationship Aquilina had fallen in and out of, beginning with the groovy titular track ‘Fools’ and ending with the harrowing ‘Broke’, with the final verses throwing the circle back to the beginning.
Aquilina’s already impressive body of work wooed the likes of label giants like Island Records, who soon signed her after hearing the final installment to her trilogy and helped kickstart the journey towards a major label debut. The album was preceded by one more release, the enchanting Ocean EP which spawned an emotionally vivid visual for the titular track directed by Weronika Tofilska, who later went on to direct the video for the album’s future lead single. The ‘Ocean’ video features Aquilina in an overturned-furniture laden room with ocean-related imagery being projected upon the artist and the surrounding room in a double-exposure type effect. The bleakness of the composition juxtaposed against the glorious rising instrumental creates an effective and impressive first impression of the new Aquilina, one who has the confidence of the music industry behind her; and finally in August 2016, after two longs years of hard work, it was time for Aquilina to present her first full-length release, the aptly named Isn't It Strange?.
The album opens confidently with the spine-tingling fan favorite ‘Midnight Mouths,’ before flowing into my personal favorite from the album, ‘Wicked Game’, a track reminiscent of fellow British singers Foxes and Nina Nesbitt’s more recent work, with a powerful chorus showcasing the pinnacle of the modern British pop scene. Other notable tracks come in the form of the album’s empowering and freeing lead single ‘Kicks’, as well as the equally as poppy ‘Suddenly Strangers’, which explores how quickly the intimacy of a relationship can change.
What sets the album apart from many debuts is the maturity in which Aquilina carries her topics, while many others choose to stick to fluffy ways of discussing love and how "oh so hard" it can be. Aquilina doesn’t beat around the bush, launching headfirst into the fray and murk with a heartbreakingly honest depiction of how painful relationships can truly be, with tracks like ‘Thinking About’ keeping the album grounded between pop joints such as ‘Hurt Any Less’. Also included in the album is an updated version of the track that started it all, the ever crafty ‘Fools’, recorded live at the legendary RAK studios, showcasing the degree to which Aquilina’s voice has matured since 2012.
Isn’t It Strange? continues on the trend of impressive 2016 debuts, providing a satisfying culmination to the huge anticipation for Aquilina’s first full length album. My only qualms with the album is the ignoring of some of Aquilina’s recent tracks such as ‘Low’, ‘Echoes’, and ‘Out Of Our Depth’, all of which would have been more than at home within the body of work and would've helped the album to maintain that familiarity that it sometimes misses. Despite this, ‘Isn’t It Strange?’ remains a very solid addition to Aquilina’s portfolio, and we’re excited to see what comes next from the Bristolian songstress!
Isn’t It Strange? was released on August 26th under Island Records. Buy the album on iTunes now.
Photography Credit: Eleanor Hardwick