Kyla La Grange – review

The Lousiana, Bristol

The Louisiana is a very small Bristol venue that has played host, over the years, to some very big names. Since the mid-90s, eager crowds have packed into the tiny first-floor room of this 200-year-old pub to get a close-up of future stars such as Amy Winehouse, the Strokes and Florence and the Machine. The relative unknowns who play here every night must surely dream that one day their promotional poster will be framed for posterity like those of previous attractions (the White Stripes, Kings of Leon, Coldplay) who have gone on to play venues 500 times larger than this.

Kyla La Grange is a 24-year-old singer from Watford who has been tipped for big things in 2012, but she's still in the very early moments of her career and not established enough yet to have other people set up the stage for her. In a delicate black lace dress and black tights, and with no shoes on her feet – you wouldn't mistake her for a roadie – she pads around after the support act have cleared up, plugging in guitars and adjusting the mic downwards as her four-man band busy themselves in the background.

La Grange looks younger than 24 and cuts a slight figure onstage but, as a Louisiana regular might tell you, size is not always a good indication of musical heft. When they're finally tuned up and ready to go, the band launch into "Been Better", the second of three singles so far, and La Grange unleashes a voice that could command the kind of spaces Muse (another Louisiana-endorsed act) now count as standard.

The song begins with a squall of guitars that resolves into a mutinous verse about not needing any more guff from her lover, before she is forced to admit in the chorus that "I've been better… when I took the lead instead of being led". Like many of La Grange's songs, "Been Better" finds its singer torn between defiant self-possession and the yearnings that threaten to undermine it. "Why is my heart never mine?" she demands, frustrated, a few lines later.

The music swells and recedes accordingly as rocky outbursts give way to moments of injured restraint, or quiet defiance breaks into lovelorn gales. In the few short interviews she's given over the past 12 months, the Cambridge philosophy graduate has talked about the dark preoccupations that fuel her work. "My songs are all about messing things up and getting sad about it," she told the Guardian. "What I want to do is tap into that feeling of being really fucked up and making music that feels big. I want the songs to feel like a wave has taken you over and washed you up on the shore. I like to revel in that epic sadness, get swept up in it."

It's hard for a big-voiced British female songwriter to revel in epic sadness these days without being likened to a certain someone who has also graced the Louisiana's dinky stage, and in this case the Florence and the Machine comparisons carry some weight. The sound may be more guitar-heavy, but La Grange doesn't deviate far from the goth-pop sensibility expressed by the likes of Anna Calvi and Clare Maguire (with varying degrees of success) in the last couple of years.

Her third song of the evening, "To Be Torn", suggests she is capable of shouldering the weight of her influences. Her earlier smiles now disappear and her face contorts as she sings in a high, crystalline voice about how she can only be happy on her own.

It's a spine-tingling performance, but when the song ends she falters a little and apologises for darkening the mood. "They're not all that depressing," she says of the rest of her repertoire. "Well, they sort of are… but not that much." Later on she assures us: "This one's a bit more fun" – as if she's been warned that sadness on an epic scale would be more than we can handle. But if "To Be Torn" is anything to go by, she should trust her deeper, darker instincts.

And if La Grange wants her poster framed on one of these walls in the years to come, she needs to push her songwriting further, too. The melodies are solid, anchored by robust guitar riffs and walloping drums, but the lyrics do little more than clarify the emotions churning about underneath. With such an excellent delivery apparatus at their disposal, they should be having a greater impact than they do.

It needn't all be doom and gloom. There's a whiff of Twilight-infused adolescence about the forthcoming single "Vampire's Smile", but it has an entertainingly warped sense of humour and a couple of lines with genuine bite. And "As If", which closes the set on an ebullient high, shows that La Grange can have fun – real, unforced fun – without making it feel like a career decision.


Killian Fox

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Kyla La Grange: Ashes – review

In Kyla La Grange's goth pop there always seems to be an anthem ready to break out, says Ally Carnwath

Ally Carnwath

28, Jul, 2012 @11:05 PM

Article image
Kyla La Grange: Ashes – review
There's no getting round the Florence and the Machine comparisons, but Kyla La Grange's melodramatic pop may actually be better, writes Michael Hann

Michael Hann

26, Jul, 2012 @7:59 PM

Kyla La Grange – review

Looking like Mr Tumnus's supermodel sister, the Watford hopeful carves a powerful pastoral aesthetic all her own, says Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont

31, May, 2012 @5:45 PM

Article image
New band of the day – No 1,062: Kyla La Grange

Fans of Florence and the darkly dramatic will love the emotional bloodletting in the work of this Watford witch

Paul Lester

14, Jul, 2011 @4:19 PM

Article image
First sight: Kyla La Grange
Watford-born ex-psychology student who started writing songs as a child and hopes to be 'cathartic'

Rob Fitzpatrick

24, Mar, 2011 @10:50 PM

New music: Kyla La Grange – Walk Through Walls

Michael Cragg: This precocious singer is the kind of towering talent that other pop stars secretly fear

Michael Cragg

14, Jan, 2011 @12:25 PM

Article image
Six Songs of Me: Kyla La Grange - video

The singer defines herself in six tracks, including Babylon Zoo's Spaceman, and Maybe Not by Cat Power

06, Sep, 2012 @1:53 PM

Article image
Latitude festival – review
The Cribs, Suede and a bewitching Anna Calvi are the highlights of a slightly washed-out weekend at Suffolk's Latitude festival, writes Morwenna Ferrier

Morwenna Ferrier

23, Jul, 2011 @11:05 PM

Article image
Anna Calvi: Anna Calvi – review
Anna Calvi's debut might nod to PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, but she is no mere copyist, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

16, Jan, 2011 @12:05 AM

Anna Calvi: One Breath – review
A clever control of her soaring voice is key to Anna Calvi's exquisite second album, says Hermione Hoby

Hermione Hoby

12, Oct, 2013 @11:04 PM