I remember in the early days of Long Division I got a press release from a singer songwriter with an impressive CV of work. She had well-regarded fans and had played some great festivals. But the lead piece of information was that she was just 19. It was only weird because i’m sure I got the same thing a few years running.
The point, presumably, was that her talent and success outstripped the expectations of someone of that age. I booked her quite a few times, and she was great, so the hype was justified. But it comes to mind when reviewing the work of younger musicians because is it good good or good because they’re young good?
In contrast, I’m too old to offer reliable testimony but I believe I first came across Loz Campbell in conjunction with Long Division around 2014, then a fifteen year old just getting started. One of the hardest working musicians locally, she has admirably learnt her craft in the pubs and on the stages of venues across the region – just her, the songs and the acoustic guitar in tow.
In the last year, just as the know-it-all voice in my head was thinking ‘she needs to step it up now’, she did exactly that, recruiting a tight rhythm section behind her, leading to bigger shows including a slot at Leeds O2 Academy and invested in an electric guitar and distortion pedal.
So this is her debut album and the most pleasing thing to hear is that she is still taking steps forward. It’s not the earlier singles and EPs pieced together but something brand new and a document of her evolution as a songwriter.
The strongest musical DNA I can find is Nirvana, but rather than a Vines-like route to Cobain-scream emulation, it’s there in the simple and direct chords and song structures and the more plaintive vocal melodies, but more Marigold or Sappy than Territorial Pissings or Scentless Apprentice. It’s largely the sound of a three-piece in the studio with few bells and whistles – just as the debut album of a constantly gigging band should be.
The directness of this approach is felt most on the loudest and fastest songs, in particular the opening trio of Glass Eyes, Generic Girl and My Motivation and later burst of energy such as Headcase. The comfortable and natural melodies also bring to mind that early Nirvana high point About A Girl; simple, direct and unburdened.
But as the album settles in, a greater variety reveals itself. The drum machine work of New York Took A Piece Of My Heart and the unexpected groove of Chemical Chocolate reveal broader songwriting skill and ambition. The latter, leading into the minor-key downbeat nonchalance of Bring Me Flowers offers something wonderfully dismissive; as the single piano notes float across a notably minimal bridge it’s a great moment and shows sometimes less can be more when it comes to attitude and defiance.
Loz has a voice and presence that carries across these different styles with ease. It’s perhaps the most striking thing here; the confidence in the conviction of the work. I accept that times change, but I can’t help but shake my head at the many supposed young musicians who seem only interested in chasing YouTube hits with webcam videos of them strumming through some stripped back pop cover, backed with an instagram account that features them looking young and beautiful (but not actually playing any music). In contrast, Loz is the real deal; it’s about the music, the art, the experience and that integrity shines through across Green Eyes. It’s worth noting Loz also co-mixed and mastered the album. It’s a piece of work of passion and certainty, and that matters.
To return to the opening, as any hackneyed reviewer should, the youth of a performer doesn’t get them a free pass. The product here is an excellent achievement but it does, in my mind, leave at least one eye on the future. This is simultaneously the best work Loz has released but also sets a standard I expect that she will surpass in the next 12 months. A debut should be a record of what that performers was across all those years of development and the honest, unfussy and direct production delivers this promise.
But existing in that space between the louder moments and the more gentle ones is the route forward, one that will see a development of the songwriting and sonics. To me that is exciting. I’ve sat in enough pubs and venues over the years and seen enough average bands go through the motions in an adequately tight and rehearsed manner. And I’ve been bored a thousand times. What I want to see is potential, to witness an artist finding their way through the mediocrity and avoiding the easy path. Above all, this record is a step on that path. Yep, to have achieved this at so and so an age is impressive (and I shudder when I think what I was writing at that age) and it stands firmly and proudly as a great piece of work in it’s own right. But, I just can’t wait to see what comes next.