A Bold Step in a New Direction
Solo albums from indie frontmen tend to stick to a very well tried script within recent years. Typically, an independent release by an artist who has come to embody his or her band tends to sound slightly derivative, but for the most part very similar to, the band’s group releases. For evidence of this fact one could easily turn to Alex Turner, Rivers Cuomo or Damon Albarn, whose solo releases reflect the artistic choices said artists make as leaders of their respective outfits.
This rule is hardly ubiquitous, however, and Ela Stiles as an example of that fact. Stiles’ eponymously titled debut release completely breaks the mold from what she’s done with her Melbourne-based group Bushwalking, eschewing indie rock instrumentation and songwriting for an a cappella, avant-garde album comprised of short tracks and running sixteen minutes in length.
One can say forthright that Ela Stiles is not an easy listen. The entire album exudes a Celtic, chamber music-esque vibe the sounds like a stripped down version of the collaboration between Sinéad O’Connor and the Chieftains. Additionally, the lack of cohesion between the album’s songs as well as the lack of traditional song structure makes this release difficult to get through in one sitting, or enjoy casually outside of a critical setting.
These apparent influences and artistic choices in Stiles’ release will definitely turn some listeners off, but this does not mean the album is deeply flawed. Rather, it is through Stiles’ play in experimental music that this release earns its praise; Ela Stiles is such an extreme rejection of current independent rock music that, coupled with the artist’s incredible vocal range and technique, makes for a decent, not excellent, release.
It could be said that the next step for Stiles is to attempt to bridge her two artistic facets between the avant-garde and conventional indie rock in order to strike the right mix of listenability and artistic integrity; had she drawn upon her work with Bushwalking more heavily on this release, it would have undisputedly made for a better album. For the time being, however, one should accept Ela Stiles as a bold and interesting step in a new direction.