It’s in the middle of a summer night in 2009 and Gabrielle decides to set up her camera in her bedroom to record a video. She doesn’t have a mic, but the piano is still vibrant as her voice booms through the video. Near the end of the song, she breaks and chuckles slightly because she’s lost her place on the piano. But that doesn’t bother her. She finishes the song, turns off her piano and shuts the camera off for the song to be uploaded to her YouTube channel the next day. Little did Gabrielle know that almost a decade later she’d be touring Europe and America to play songs to her thousands of fans.
I first heard of Gabrielle Aplin through a fanmade video on YouTube — her song, “Please Don’t Say You Love Me,” was playing in the background. It was an acoustic track about wanting to stay at the beginning of a relationship and not venture into the deep stage. It was one of the many songs on her new album, “English Rain,” that I downloaded later that day. All of the music I heard on the album was so different from everything else I was listening to in 2013. With songs mostly featuring an acoustic guitar or a lovely piano ballad, I fell in love with her acoustic sound.
While her style has changed over the years, she Aplin remains one of my favorite artists. It might have to do with the fact that I fell in love with her voice. It’s light and fluttery as she hits high notes that seem effortless. But unlike pop singer Ariana Grande, who has a similarly high voice, Alpin hits these notes more tentatively — they’re more calming than bold. A lot of her notes contain a slight vibrato that’s not too over the top — a distinct feature of her voice. And with her most recent EP, “Avalon,” my feelings around her voice haven’t wavered. Although her style has changed, her voice still shines through.
“Avalon” has me excited for music Aplin will make in the future. Her first song, “Waking Up Slow,” is a track featuring way more electronic sounds than her previous albums and EPs. It sounds like a pop song from the 80s, with synths that make me feel like I’m in a futuristic bubble. This idea carries through in her music video as she dresses up in 80s-inspired clothing and walks around the street in a dreamlike setting. The next song, “Say Nothing,” is representative of Aplin’s ability to combine lyrics about different moments in budding and fleeting relationships with a strong beat that’ll leave you bopping in your seat.
Yet Alpin doesn’t fully abandon the acoustic style she started out in. “Used to Do,” the third track on the EP, takes Gabrielle back to her roots. Like her early material, “Used to Do” is full of layered harmonies over a beautiful guitar. The lyrics in the pre-chorus, “Can you hear me? / Tell me that you feel it too / Do you still love me? / Like you used to do,” are a call out to a past lover. The contrast between the verse and the pre-chorus, from layered to minimalistic, really makes the pre-chorus have such a huge impact.
“Stay,” the EP’s last song, is one of my favorites. It’s more of a pop song with electronic instruments like the first two songs on the album. I remember listening to an acoustic version of this song on YouTube in a recording session before the single was released on the EP. Both versions of the song have different impacts. While the pop version is a fun pop single, the acoustic version has way more of a punch. In this version, her voice is the main source of emotion set against the light picking of the guitar, a sound similar to “Please Don’t Say I Love You.”
Being able to successfully experiment with a new style can be a challenge for many artists as old fans might be hesitant to adapt. Big name artists like Taylor Swift and Paramore who have decided to change their style over recent years have had to deal with fans requesting they go back to their old material. But what’s wonderful about art is that it fluctuates, and one artist doesn’t need to be defined by one style of music throughout their entire career. And while old fans of Gabrielle may wish that she’d bring back her old style, I’m very happy to see how she’s developed over the years and I can’t wait to see what she has coming out next.
Gabrielle Aplin played Sunday, March 11 at Slim’s in San Francisco. Her most recent EP, “Avalon” can be found on all streaming platforms.
Contact Jourdann Tai-mae Fraser at jourdann ‘at’ stanford.edu.