Grace VanderWaal, Just the Beginning | Album Review
13-year old singer-songwriter Grace VanderWaal delivers a fine debut LP with ‘Just the Beginning.’ The America’s Got Talent winner showcases her artistry.
Truly, America’s Got Talent. Grace VanderWaal, a mere kid, proved that, winning the popular television show. The thing is, not only did she win a reality competition, she truly possesses talent – she’s got chops. After releasing a debut EP in 2016, Perfectly Imperfect, she arrives in 2017 with her highly-anticipated, full-length debut album, Just the Beginning.
On “Moonlight,” VanderWaal showcases her beautiful, distinct voice. The cracks and nuances provide ample character. The production keeps things simple, with a signature ukulele-driven sound. This simplicity is smart; it doesn’t overpower or take away from VanderWaal herself. The form is rock-solid – verses, pre-chorus, chorus, post-chorus, and bridge. The pre-chorus sets up and foreshadows an incredibly fun and catchy chorus, the highlight of the song.
“Remember last year when you told me / To always stay here and never leave me / The light from your eyes made it feel like / We-e-e were dancing in the moonlight.”
Clearly, on “Sick of Being Told,” VanderWaal has a very common disease that infects teen youth – rebelliousness. On the first verse, she desires independence, further asserting her desires on the pre-chorus and chorus sections. Perhaps its teen through and through, adults actually can relate as well. Besides an interesting theme and lyrics, the production is solid, as well as the vocals.
On “Burned,” piano serves as the central accompaniment, as opposed to ukulele. This change of pace is a welcome one (no offense to the four-stringed instrument), and no pun intended, helps to fuel VanderWaal’s fire. “Just a Crush” restores the ukulele-fueled sound. As a record, “Just a Crush” is enjoyable, well-performed, and well-produced. Given her age, this feels like an appropriate record fitting where she is in life.
“So Much More Than This” is short and sweet. Brevity is a smart choice. The production work is a bit more pronounced compared to “Moonlight,” but not overblown. Even with more instrumentation backing her, VanderWaal is never in battle with her backdrop – she’s always in command. On the verses, the production is lighter, particularly when she sings in an undertone. Even when she’s not belting it out, she’s always the focal point. All in all, there are no glaring cons.
On “Escape My Mind,” the ukulele is prominently featured within the production, clearly a staple of the VanderWaal sound. The production as a whole is strong, backing up the ukulele with a sensational, tropically-infused, percussive groove. In addition to the palette of instrumental sounds, VanderWaal sounds assertive, showcasing emotion, grit, and nuance. Overall, “Escape My Mind” is catchy, with the best moments coming on the pre-chorus and chorus sections.
“I wish I could get you / Out of my mind /But I think about it all the time /And I wish I could not think / For once in my life / But when I see your face / I can’t escape my mind.”
“Talk Good” is an interesting record. It maintains the tropical-pop sensibilities that VanderWaal is known for – a product of the ukulele – but also incorporates some modern pop sensibilities. This is thanks to the incorporation of hip-hop oriented pitch-shifted vocals, and of course, repetition. “Florets” possesses uplifting, carefree sensibilities. On the pre-chorus, VanderWaal sings:
“Blowing florets / I wanna dance in the air / Blowing florets / And just not care about anyone or anything / But you and me.”
Groovy, “Florets” combines dance-pop elements with acoustic pop. That means that ukulele continues to have a place, providing some rhythm. Furthermore, there are some strings and bright production touches that give “Florets” a classy sound.
“A Better Life”
“Insane Sometimes” is another record that doesn’t rely on ukulele. Still, there’s the sense that producers have ensured that this record fits the artistry of VanderWaal. There are touches of the modern pop script – specifically electronic– but that simple, acoustic sound still remains alive and well. Speaking of acoustic, the ukulele returns prominently on ballad “A Better Life.” VanderWaal’s voice continues to sound mature behind its years, particularly with those signature cracks and nuances. This is a simplistic, singer-songwriter-oriented record that lures the listener in from the start.
The raspy, emotive vocals of VanderWaal continue to shine on penultimate record, “City Song.” The bright, robust chorus serves as the crowning achievement. Just the Beginning concludes with “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me.” Somewhat restrained initially, the record and Grace herself percolate, growing more overt and dramatic. The strings are a gorgeous production feature.
All in all, Grace VanderWaal delivers a fine full-length debut album with Just the Beginning. Indeed, this album feels like it’s ‘just the beginning’ of a bright career for the 13-year old singer/songwriter. Just like the singles released in advance of the album, VanderWaal continues to wow with her musical aptitude at such a young age. This album is a winner, just like Grace herself.
Gems: “Moonlight,” “Sick of Being Told,” “Burned,” “Escape My Mind” & “A Better Life”