Genre: Electronic/Classical Crossover
Release Date: August 19, 2016
The first time I heard Lindsey Stirling was in early 2012, when I accidentally stumbled upon the music video for her song “Shadows” on YouTube. It was a cute, simple, very much a small-budget clip of her and her shadow having a dance-off. Since then, she’s gained billions of views on YouTube, her songs have sold millions, and her new album Brave Enough debuted at #5 on the Billboard 200 list. Quite well for a performer who was turned down in America’s Got Talent for being “unmarketable”.
Stirling’s two previous albums mixed together classical strings with electronic music with a limited budget aesthetic similar to her “Shadows” video; most of the heavier electronic sounds and dubstep wubs-wubs sounded plastic and lacked the real punch. The whole thing sounded like it was recorded using the pre-existing samples found from a 20-dollar electronic keyboard. For many electronic artists this can be conscious choice, but with Stirling’s symphonic approach the technical limitations were seriously undermining the listening experience she was trying to convey. Now, her third album features so many different producers that listing them would eat the space from the rest of the review. And it can be heard: from production standpoint Brave Enough sounds much better than Stirling’s previous records.
However, when it comes to the material itself, Stirling seems to be at a loss. There is an air of aimlessness to her songwriting, almost like she was working on two different albums simultaneously – one being collection of instrumental violin showcases like “First Light” or “Prism”, the other a collection of violin-flavoured pop tracks featuring guest vocalists – and haphazardly mashed them together when the deadline caught up with her. The latter category is often where the album falls short: some of the vocal performances tend to shove the violin into the background, while on others Stirling seems to consciously dial back her violin wizardry, resulting in safe and generic pop tracks with some string accompaniment. Fortunately, some of the songs with vocalists work very well, with the vocals and violin supporting instead of undermining one another. The title track keeps the violin in the spotlight, and proves that Christina Perri can provide decent vocals with material that she has not herself provided. “Something Wild”, the album’s grande finale, manages to balance Stirling’s violin, Andrew McMahon’s vocals and piano into a harmonious, equal trinity.
Despite her evident inexperience with the traditional pop song format, Brave Enough showcases Stirling’s skills as a proficient violinist and an adept composer of instrumental electronic music. Whenever she stays off the standard pop songs, the music flourishes. Maybe it’s the unmarketability.