Sophia Knapp: Into the Waves

Sophia Knapp
Into the Waves
Drag City

Frozen in time for over a year now, a crowdfunding page used by Sophia Knapp to help produce her debut solo LP is full of interesting insights. Besides listing supportive friends and family, the page entices contributors to donate $200 or more and receive a “tarot reading by Sophia in person or on the phone depending on location.” Although, sadly, no-one took advantage of that opportunity, the funding target was nonetheless reached, and Knapp’s flair for the magical has impacted strongly on the resultant album. Although softer and more personal than Knapp’s work with Brooklyn outfit Lights (or Cliffie Swan, as they are now known), Into the Waves is just as dreamy and thoughtful. The result is a comparatively light but always satisfying solo effort, and a worthy investment for Knapp’s backers.

Knapp’s track record must have inspired confidence in her supporters. While known as Lights, her band released two acclaimed records which ranged widely in style; after the renaming, Knapp fronted last year’s impressively coherent Memories Come True. Although the record was largely neglected by the music press, its more settled ’70s radio rock approach was carried off with aplomb. Into the Waves is cut from the same cloth, to a significant extent, but if Cliffie Swan’s LP was their Fleetwood Mac-inspired record, Knapp’s solo departure is her tribute to the witchy rock LPs Stevie Nicks put out in the 1980s.

Fortunately, Knapp is no carbon-copy imitator. Just as she did with her bandmates in Cliffie Swan, Into the Waves sees her hat-tip her influences – not only Nicks but also Kate Bush, Françoise Hardy, and Carly Simon – just as she injects a modern sensibility into the songs. While the serene lead single “Nothing to Lose” certainly wouldn’t have sounded out of place on pop radio 30 years ago, “Close to You” makes a deft about-turn early on, morphing from a maudlin acoustic piece into thumping neo-disco by way of Swedish experimental duo Studio. Lending extra individuality to the album as a whole are the able collaborators Knapp has recruited, not least R&B veteran “Bassy” Bob Brockman on bass and Eric Gorman in the producer’s chair.

It is Knapp herself, however, who most firmly stamps her personality across Into the Waves. While her vocal abilities have been proven repeatedly with Lights and Cliffie Swan, this solo project places her songwriting under greater scrutiny than ever before. Rising to the challenge, Knapp has crafted a set of tunes which are neither too esoteric nor excessively hook-laden. Crucially, she has also been largely successful in avoiding the kind of lyrical cliché that the “mystical” female-fronted rock album can be prone to, instead providing her own fantastical images. “Giant hands made of wind”, reassures “Weeping Willow”, “will catch you when fall”.

Quietly and slowly satisfying rather than a knock-out blow, Into the Waves is nevertheless a world away from the kind of self-centred and hollow record it could have been. Similarly, while it never approaches the sheer pleasure of Memories Come True, this solo debut is a fine counterpart and successor to those songs. A worthy listen both for newcomers and fans of Knapp’s previous work, Into the Waves will no doubt have its backers feeling pleased to have parted with their dollars.

RATING 7 / 10