Favorites: Kissing Other People, Older Than I Am, Since I Was a Kid, Goodnight
Overall: An endearing debut; full-hearted lyrics and vocal are supported with ambient alt-pop production.
Before the FOX network premiered Empire, ABC had a similar country incarnation called Nashville. It had better writing and music, but I digress. The cast included two charming youth actresses who were sisters in real life: Lennon and Maisy Stella. I was enchanted by their beauteous harmonies, and impressed with their level of talent, stage presence, and emotionality. It was a pleasure watching them continue to develop as performers over the show’s six year run (the last two seasons were on CMT). Needless to say, I was excited when Lennon (the older Stella) announced that she’d be releasing material.
The succinct Love, Me EP arrived in November 2018; about four months after Nashville wrapped. While it was a departure from the acoustic-guitar heavy country-folk Stella did on the television drama, the pathos was retained. Infectious alt-pop with a melancholic underbelly is what she evidently sought to create. Love, Me’s full-length follow up, Three. Two. One. was titled to note a countdown to her complete artistic unveiling. “This is me releasing myself from the pressure of prior expectations...three, two, one, I’m diving in...” she explained to Apple Music.
Three. Two. One. definitely expands Love Me’s view, being more experimental and a deeper plunge into a crestfallen abyss. Lennon’s lyrics tell the tale of a young woman (she’s 20) trying to prevent being broken by life’s first waves of hardships and heartaches. It details a struggle to maintain innocence and hope, and use the best of limited wisdom. Words about sadistic relationships (ex. “Games”), growing pains (ex. “Since I Was a Kid”), and familial fractures and bonds (ex. "Weakness (Huey Lewis)") are lifted off the page by her wistful vocal performance. Her natural rasp and wispiness contribute to her affect, rather than restrict it (which is the case for many artists with similar tones). When she leans into a smoother slide, there’s a lusciousness you wouldn’t mind hearing more of though (ex. “Goodnight”). The way she captures the fragility and vulnerability of this stage of aging is a testament to how in tune she is with her feelings and expression. Some of those co-writing with Stella are Caroline Ailin, Simon Wilcox, Phamous, and Ruslan Odnoralov of the band Everfound. Only two songs are without Stella’s penmanship.
Three. Two. One. is capable of settling in your subconscious, but it takes a few listens for that to happen. It doesn’t entertain traditional pop as much as Love, Me did, so it’s less catching. Cuts such as “Kissing Other People,” “Golf on TV,” and “Jealous” aren’t ill-fitting on the record, but it’s obvious they were made to be promotional singles. They’re especially inviting. The first two have secondary renditions. “Kissing Other People's” weepy acoustic partner rivals the original and is available separately. “Golf on TV’s” album version is noticeably without JP Saxe, whose presence gives the song a boost.
Aside from this hiccup of sorts, Lennon Stella has gotten off on a good foot. Her sincerity and connection to her content permitted her to come into her own from Nashville kink-free. Three...two...one...she’s ready for launch.