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Echoes, Without Enough Voice

In an early 2010s pop vein, Grayson’s latest obscures their personality

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Grayson is stuck in an echo chamber. The first sound on their EP “Head To Head” is their voice, massively overdubbed, singing “Hey!” on the intro “39.” The first full song, “Brother,” begins with a loop of them singing “ba-ba-da,” which continues throughout most of the song. The non-binary singer is particularly fond of using their voice to create a delay effect, so that they can speak in dialogue with themselves. Grayson contains multitudes, all inside themself.

The glitchy production of “Head To Head” is au courant. The way they use their voice has precedents. The a cappella Japanese singer Hatis Noit samples and loops her vocals to make up for the lack of other instruments in her music. Serpentwithfeet turns his own voice into a one-man gospel choir. But his music tries to conceal its seams — one might think serpentwithfeeet recorded with an actual choir — while Noit leans toward the “modern composition” avant-garde. Grayson is making pop music: their singles “Brother” and “Cherry Pits” are perfectly accessible.

“Head To Head” was produced by Aidan, who creates a space that’s not exactly murky or low-fi but isn’t slick either. He was apparently able to use an unlimited number of overdubs, and as a result “Head to Head” has a blown-out quality. It combines synthesizers with funk-lite rhythm guitar, but Grayson’s vocals dominate. “Cherry Pits” features simulated static, as though it were playing off scratchy vinyl. “New York Come Back To Me” uses handclaps as percussion. The EP is obviously a DIY production; it has ambitions of finding a large audience, but even if it draws on early 2010s pop, no one would mistake it for Lady Gaga outtakes.

In the video for “Brother,” Grayson stands by the sea. Shot in black and white, the clip brings out the song’s melodrama, as Grayson dances anxiously, with no attempt to lip-synch, for its entire length. The last shot offers the promise of escape from the relationship it describes and the imagery in the video, as a path through trees emerges. The visual is hampered by its obvious budgetary limits and time constraints — it looks like it was shot in an afternoon. Instead of expanding upon the song, it seems half-finished.

Grayson’s lyrics often allude to difficult relationships with hints of violence and danger, as well as a quest for self-respect. “New York Come Back To Me” details living in the city as though it were a lover. In “Come Out On Top,” they sing, “Why do I still care what happens to her?/ Why do I close my eyes when it gets worse?” The song’s aimed at a backstabbing lover who is now in a relationship with a woman. The chorus of “Moves” goes, “You won’t lay a finger on my figure/ You won’t touch me damn I’m eager.” “Cherry Pits” is a kiss-off to a lover who “bite every hand that feeds you/ baby know nobody needs you.”

Grayson got their first buzz from Billboard magazine’s website featuring “Brother” in its “Pride” section. The lyric video for “Cherry Pits” begins with an image of them applying lipstick. They work as a model and makeup artist, with a love for fashion that’s coded feminine in American culture. But their Instagram page shows a variety of looks, from a suit and turtleneck to blonde curls and heavy makeup. They use image to communicate as much as their music.

“Head To Head” is likable without having much staying power. Grayson has a distinctive sound, but none of the songs on their EP have particularly strong hooks. “Head To Head” feels pleasurable while I’m listening to it, but it has a common flaw of recent pop: going for vibe over songwriting. The production dominates, overwhelming much sense of Grayson’s personality. Their music is mildly leftfield without being genuinely experimental. If the lyrical focus on self-care is laudable, it’s reminiscent of much pop from the early 2010s and expressed fairly vaguely, without the complex emotions of Robyn or SOPHIE.

GRAYSON | “Head To Head” | Drops May 10 | One Half Records

Updated 2:09 pm, May 9, 2019
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