Kelly McMichael Sounds Timeless but Not Dated on Debut LP 'Waves'

BY Alex HudsonPublished May 18, 2021

Some audiences might know Kelly McMichael from past projects like RENDERS, Rouge or Thelma & Louise — but, more likely, Waves will serve as an introduction to the Peterborough-raised, St. John's-based singer-songwriter. Her array of previous bands perhaps explains why McMichael arrives on her debut solo album sounding fully-formed. It's the mark of a mature songwriter who has honed a graceful pop-rock style that balances emotional rawness with carefully considered songcraft.

Waves sounds like it could have come from any time in the past 50 years, like the late-album highlight "Montreal," which relates an achingly nostalgic story about visiting the titular city over a chord progression reminiscent of "Crimson and Clover." "She Makes Men," with its quavering guitar tremolo straight outta the '60s and the effortless vocal delivery of Stevie Nicks, is similarly vintage. (That said, the lyric "she was a lesbian" refreshingly sounds absolutely nothing like classic rock.)

Elsewhere, McMichael dabbles in '80s-friendly sounds: "Out the Window" has the blippy arpeggiator and brassy synths of classic new wave (think Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" or Gary Numan's "Cars"), and "I Won't Stop" has a surging dance-rock beat and thrumming post-punk bassline.

With hymnal harmonies and effortless vocal runs, "Love Is On" recalls the decades-old moments when pop balladry first collided with soul, while lyrics like "I left Toronto / Probably for the best / Lost my mind in England / Headed home for some rest" situate the song firmly within McMichael's world.

The album's consistency only falters on final track "Can't at All," a beat-driven, sax-assisted electro banger that sounds like a completely different project tacked on the end of the tracklist. (RENDERS was a more synth-focused project, so perhaps it's a holdover from those days.) It's a lovely song, but some listeners will probably assume the album has already ended and something else is has autoplayed.

Ill-fitting finale aside, McMichael and her co-producer Jake Nicoll have created a lush-sounding debut that weaves together several decades' worth of sounds into a seamless pop-rock tapestry. It all feels familiar, yet it's so timeless that it never seems dated.

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