With her debut album, Somewhere in Between, VÉRITÉ etches her name into the growing pantheon of alt-pop brooders.
This year might go down as the Year of Female Alt-Pop; after all, emotionally discontented music with pop hooks has never felt chicer. The noir-meets-digital aesthetic of the latest releases by Lorde, Halsey, and Lana Del Rey (to name a few) transform the typical breeziness of summer anthems into particular brands of despondence. The success of their previous releases, not to mention those by Tove Lo, Banks, and Charli XCX paved the way for the turn toward the melancholic in contemporary pop. This sonic and cultural shift is anything but niche -- it’s gone mainstream.
With her debut album, Somewhere in Between, VÉRITÉ etches her name into the growing pantheon of alt-pop brooders. Just a few years ago, VÉRITÉ -- the musical moniker of Kelsey Byrne -- was toiling away as a server at an Applebee’s in Times Square. But when she posted a cover of the 1975’s “Somebody Else” on YouTube, she became a social media sensation nearly overnight. Self-releasing a smattering of EPs in its aftermath and touring as a supporting act for Betty Who, Byrne hustled tirelessly to extend her 15 minutes of fame. She had the makings of a DIY alt-pop heroine in the digital age, opting for streaming services rather than traditional modes of label-backed promotion and distribution.
Eschewing the temptation of a major label for Somewhere in Between keeps VÉRITÉ firmly in control. She even sings late in the album, “I’m in love with control” (“Control”). But exercising control isn’t always easy for someone caught “somewhere in between.”
As the album’s title suggests, VÉRITÉ finds herself in a liminal space, lyrically and musically in a realm between Halsey’s medicated anhedonia and Lana Del Rey’s wistful mourning. But she navigates this liminal space with precision, sharpening her hooks and expanding her electronic tessellations with the direction of co-producers Liam Howe (Lana Del Rey, FKA Twigs), Tim Anderson (Banks), and Peter Thomas (Betty Who). Similarly, in as much as the record inhabits the claustrophobic universe of herself and a former lover, Byrne attempts to maintain narrative control over the relationship with emotional honesty. Altogether, Somewhere in Between feels like a slow avalanche of gloom that occasionally risks romanticizing depression. But as it moves, it gathers a hook-laden collection of battle cries for difficult times.
Opener “When You’re Gone” captures the temperament of the album. Musically, the song maps an electronic glitchscape, distinguishing sonic territories caked with the grime of distorted synths from the cleaner climes of Byrne’s reverberant falsetto. The belting hook emerges from between these spaces, as the timbre of Byrne’s voice finds an emotional candor, even though she sings lyrics that are otherwise defined by a lack of feeling: “I don’t want to be here anymore / There’s no difference here from when you’re gone.”
Following “When You’re Gone” is another alt-pop banger, “Phase Me Out”. Beginning with an atmospheric synth swirl and Byrne’s frank cadence in the verse, the song fleshes out one of the more satisfying pre-chorus melodies you’ll ever hear. The melody climbs down beautifully with each beat, before embarking on a dulcet rise in half-time, mirroring Byrne’s waning and waxing emotional perspective on a messy break-up. In the resonant space of the chorus, trilled vocal hooks and electronic blips dance around Byrne’s pained questioning: “Don’t you want to stay here / Or do you want to phase me out?”
Inhabiting the sonic realm between a band like Pvris and an EDM-inflected Banks, “Death of Me” swaggers with a doom-beckoning telos, and Byrne’s voice gradually moves into the rough as she threshes her throat at the song’s climax. “Bout You” soaks a Betty Who-like avant-pop with a gothic dankness and a sopping wet trip-hop beat, while “Better” builds off of such experimentally morose stylings with digitally warped vocal runs.
The second half of the album offers more of the same -- darkened midtempo beats pierced by laser-like synths and razor sharp vocal hooks that stick to themes of melancholia. “Need Nothing”, “Saint”, “Solutions”, and “Floor” all emblematize what works well in the new realm of alt-pop.
Despite this sonic richness, however, the album drags toward the end, weighed down by its own repetitiousness. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the songs that close the album, the same midtempo beats with emotive choruses begin to feel tired. Cutting a few songs to keep the album under the forty-minute mark likely would have yielded a more satisfying listening experience of the whole.
Altogether, though, Somewhere in Between establishes VÉRITÉ's position in the alt-pop world, demonstrating her ability to stand up well next to stars like Lorde and Lana Del Rey. Although such contemporaries will likely garner more attention because of their major label backing, VÉRITÉ shows she belongs right there with them.