‘With sublime showcase vocals and relentless reignitions of energy, Celeste’s soulful sound is continually red hot.’
Intro to Celeste
Coming to my attention when announced as part of the BBC Sound of 2020 list, it was clear that Celeste’s release prior to this would firmly set her on the path to success. Sounding completely intriguing, ‘Strange’ garnered acclaim from those in the know and containing a vocal that’s soft and soothing one minute, breathy the next and powerful the next, it’s no surprise it did so. Equally, with a soulful sound that’s perfect for the mainstream but original enough to truly stand out, it’s little surprise that Celeste was announced as BBC Sound of 2020 winner. So, with her latest track ‘Stop This Flame’ (released 9th January 2020) taking that soulful sound beyond the next level, Celeste’s has truly ensured musicality is already burning very brightly.
From the very second you hear the old vinyl style piano chords transition to full clarity, one thing, and one thing alone happens: you begin to move. Alternating between bass notes and full chords, it’s a riff that’s as infectious as they come and combining with hectically cross-rhythmic jazz drums, it makes you move even more. It is, at literally seconds in, a completely awesome sound and evolving as it does, it develops an incredible sense of momentum. But wait, what’s that that’s just entered? Well, that would be the sublime sophistication of Celeste’s vocal.
Perfectly balancing a tone that’s timeless yet current, the opening verse quickly provides a showcase sound that’s just as hard to resist as the initial groove. Delivered with a wonderful sense of effortlessness, the opening lines of ‘My heart goes up, my heart goes down’ and ‘We fall in love and we fall back out’ truly introduce us to the delicately powerful, breathy-edged tone which Celeste possesses. Totally engaging, it’s an absolute joy to experience, and continuing through, it becomes increasingly evident that all areas of the track will ensure it remains that way. Building throughout, the relentless piano riffs are joined by rim-shot infused drums and delicate bass to provide the most perfect accompaniment to Celeste’s swooping and soaring vocal. It’s absolutely tremendous, but what is even more so, is the chorus.
Following a shortening vocal hook based around the phrase of ‘Tell me to stop, but I keep on going’ we launch into the title lyrics. Transforming the atmosphere, what seemed as energetic and hectic, now feels reserved in comparison. Resulting in the wonderful mix of driving rhythms, sublime string harmonies and that ever-relentless piano riff, it’s a combination that you instantly want more of. However, if you’re wondering how that softer side of Celeste’s vocal competes, well it doesn’t. It totally wins! Becoming much more dominant, it projects above with ease and switching in places to be truly powerful, the occurrences of ‘Stop this flame’ pack a connective punch. As does what follows.
Seamlessly transitioning back towards the sound of the opening verse, the musicality of the second generates both the high-octane sensations of the chorus and the softer ones offered by Celeste’s vocal. However, bringing even more style and authenticity with it, the lyrical content allows for reflective phrases to come through with honesty and playfulness. Vocally twisting and turning, you can’t help but be wowed by what you’re hearing and while there are most definitely recurring themes, it never feels repetitive. To completely achieve this is indeed a true sign of the sheer level at which Celeste’s musicality is. Equally, in returning to the aforementioned vocal hook earlier than before, we are treated to the chorus sooner than we may have expected.
Feeling initially as though it will be a replica – which let’s face it would be a total delight – beautifully subtle changes hint at where it is heading this time. Expanding from before, those much enjoyed, string-centred close harmonies evolve into beautifully soaring ones while relentless surges of energy provide continual momentum. But, in a surprise moment, that very sound disappears. Gone is the energy, and for a brief moment, the piano riff that has driven the whole track. Why? Well the answer is very simple: so that we can be treated to a bridge that completely contrasts and combines intoxicating vocals with growing sustained harmonies. As a penultimate sections go, this goosebump-inducing one really couldn’t be any better. But, with them already covering us completely, on hearing the final chorus, they become even stronger.
Featured Image by Alessandro Raimondo. Find more of his work on Instagram.