Former Aucklander Maddie North, aka So Below, has previously released two much-praised EPs, 2016’s ‘So Below’, and ‘II’ which came two years later. Now based in Los Angeles the “goth pop chanteuse” followed them up with the release of a 13-track debut album, ‘Left Behind’, in October 2020.
13 tracks is an ambitious length of time for an album, risking restlessness in some listeners, although that may be a generational issue? Lush electro-pop elements, lathered in layers of well-produced vocals create an opportunity to relish each song, with each listen showing something new and not yet discovered; a clever use of artistry.
‘Left Behind’ is filled with slick bass lines and catchy hooks, evoking a sense of futuristic nostalgia – a contradiction upon itself. The mind is relentlessly cognisant of interchanges within instrumentation, lyrical content and nuances within the production – the album was co-written with and co-produced by Bradley Hale in Minnesota, with extra production work by Space Above (Aaron Short).
The album climbs and falls through a multitude of emotions easily accessed via the complex soundscapes. Tracks such as Clear and Drive show an unnerving mixture of sound that could be placed between Halsey and Sade. This strange mix certainly pays off, presenting So Below’s effortless ability to surpass different facets of the human mind. These, in particular, is certainly reminiscent with ’80s synth patterns, glistening chords sweep into fragments of high harmonics (luckily) not lost amongst the complex production.
Breathe allows a literal ‘breath’ in the album. Oscillating basslines intertwined with simplified vocal lines allow for So Below’s voice to fly above the composition. Fool is the final, heavily produced danceable track on the album which refreshingly finishes with Panic.
The captivating lyrical content in Panic, such as “lost it all… tearing up my skin… if there’s a cure for this…” gestures towards thematic content of heartache and loss, but sprinkled with optimism. So Below’s prominent and forward vocal line soon fades out to an acoustic piano cradled with the sounds of the ocean. A pure and open theme of freedom and hope.
The self-coined term ‘goth pop’ accurately describes So Below’s music and her sound would easily blend in alongside fellow LA-based Kiwi artists Broods and Chelsea Jade (who featured as a collaborator on Old), or American superstar Billie Eilish. ‘Left Behind’ sounds fresh and certainly leaves much desire and excitement for the future of this interesting artist.