Published Apr 27, 2020Biding her time while she basked in the company of some of the music business's greatest, Lennon Stella was in no rush to release her first studio LP. We all knew it was coming back in 2012, when the early days of YouTube saw a 13-year-old Stella and her sister, Maisy, gain viral acclaim for their pitch-perfect cover of "Call Your Girlfriend." Fast-forward to 2020, on a bright, sunny day in quarantine, where all that was left to count down was the album title – Three. Two. One. – until her dedicated group of longtime fans were granted her much-awaited debut.
Three. Two. One. kicks off with a couple of strong danceable pop numbers, designed to get our hips swaying and our inhibitions lost in groovy, harmonic basslines and tasty arpeggiating synths. It only takes a couple of tracks to know there were more than a few experts involved in this production. Stella spent her peak years of growth honing her already incredible talent in what is arguably the global hub of studio production and songwriting: Nashville. If six years spent on the hit series of the same name doesn't give you a bird's eye view into what makes the industry tick, I don't know what would. Stella uses every inch of her hard-earned knowledge and network – and it shows.
Professional know-how aside, the real hero here isn't something that needed to be taught. Stella's chillingly perfect, R&B-tinged vocals are what shot her into the spotlight as a child, and they continue to be the guiding light driving her success. From start to finish, Stella takes us flying across the octaves like a trick pilot. You can almost hear her laughing as she effortlessly pulls out of a nose-dive into delicate falsetto before spinning off into some unusual, beautiful melodic aside. You only have to listen to this woman live once to know the production effort on these is minimal.
The overarching modernism in each composition is carefully layered with old-school production elements to keep the album grounded and authentic. A crispy, crackling ambience in "Games" wraps up Stella's fluid vocal rolls in a soft blanket, suggesting it might feel nice to put our arms up and wave them around lightly. It did. Suddenly, we are walking through a dimly lit, velvety bar, looking hot as fuck, with "Fear of Being Alone" grinding through the speakers. A heavy hold on the electronics keeps us strutting ahead in this moody track, with groovy percussion fills to keep its blood running hot and human. This one hits home hard these days, and Stella's DIY video for this track (shot in her living room) adds another layer of relatability for those of us stuck in our own.
Stella's album is a feminine powerhouse, creating a space equal in strength and vulnerability. After the dark and sensual "Pretty Boy," the intro to "Golf on TV" makes us "aww" out loud. Soft and honest, her dreamy voice shines overtop of this warm, simple chord progression. And, with the arrival of the chorus, the bizarre track title suddenly makes so much sense.
The sad-train doesn't end here though. Damn, Lennon – we feel these ones. "Older Than I Am" gets us looking back on our own lives with a stern knowing of having fought for ourselves without relying on anyone. Of staying true in a world with no shortage of external pressures and influence. It's a common theme for a lot of women in entertainment. Lennon is able to meditate on this difficult truth, which is impressive given how she was tossed into Hollywood at such a young age. Just because it was the natural progression for someone with such raw natural talent doesn't make it an easier road.
Following "Older Than I Am," the album hits a bit of a weak point, with the first string of songs that feel slightly contrived. We know the reality for most hits these days starts with a bunch of hit-writers in a room trying really hard to write a smash, but we don't want to feel this when we're listening.
"Since I Was a Kid" really brings us back to the original tough-as-hell Lennon vibe, and "Weakness (Huey Lewis)" is amazing, too. Maisy Stella makes an anticipated appearance here, and while this track is somewhat of a creative digression from the rest of the album (where did this psych-jazz come from?), it really does manage to fit itself in nicely here, while framing the mastery of these sisters' craft.
Three. Two. One. is an impressive debut from this Ontario-born 20-year-old. Stella shows us everything she's got, giving listeners expecting predictable surface level bops anything but. Her Canadian roots and YouTube introduction are reminiscent of another Canadian pop superstar – although Lennon Stella might be one of the first to really give Bieber a run for his money. (Columbia)