After the preliminaries, here’s the main event. Alaskan singer-songwriter Ava Earl gets brutally honest – with herself, as well as with us.
Release Date: 15th September 2023
Label: Self Released
Well – it’s here at last. Our appetite has already been well and truly whetted in anticipation for Too Much – the new album from Alaskan singer-songwriter Ava Earl (her sixth) – by her recent singles, Ears Bleed and the album’s title track, Too Much (both reviewed within these pages). Just a couple of weeks ago, we promised that we’d having a good listen to the album as soon as we could get our hands on a copy – we’ve done that, and there’s quite a lot to be said…
But, before we go into that, let’s just take a moment to refamiliarize ourselves with Ava Earl – who she is, and what she’s all about. In our previous articles, we’ve described Ava as “A bundle of energy,” and, having spent an afternoon with Too Much – The Album, I’m more convinced than ever that that’s a description that fits like a glove. First off, there’s the sheer volume of stuff that she has on her plate at any time you care to look; for instance:
Even whilst still in high school Ava was coping with an ever-busier musical schedule, opening for artists of the magnitude of Maggie Rogers and releasing four albums before she’d even turned 18. Her fifth album, The Roses (2021) turned the heat even higher, earning complimentary reviews in such publications as Holler and American Songwriter and that trajectory has continued whilst she was finding the time to write and record the songs for this latest collection. And, as if all that wasn’t workload enough, she’s managed to accomplish it whilst also continuing her studies in Political Science and Creative Writing at Northwestern University AND winning accolades as member of her college’s cross-country running and track teams.
But it’s not just by her physical achievements that Ava displays her seemingly boundless energy. That energy is right there in just about every line she writes and every note she plays. The songs on Too Much are packed with lyrics, with musical expression and exploration and with emotional release and reconciliation. Of herself, and of the thoughts that inspired this latest album, Ava has said: “Women are often told or made to feel like we are ’too much.’ We are too much for our peers, too much for our own good. We are supposed to wait our turn, couch our ideas in questions, and just be small. That’s never worked out for me. From a young age, I have been labelled ‘too much’ and I know from experience, I couldn’t be ‘less’ if I tried. This album works through the feelings of being too much – both for others and sometimes for myself.”
And that process of working through – and becoming comfortable with – those feelings of being ‘Too Much’ starts with the title track, the song that opens the album. Ava sounds vulnerable and the tune is danceable, bright and poppy – it’s enjoyable, but, like just about every song on this album, the message is in the lyrics and lines like “I regret half the things that I said/ I know I talk too much/ I guess I’ll make a fool of myself, until you shut me up” show Ava’s reconciliation process at work. And, happily, Ava concludes that being ‘too Much’ is what she is and that’s a message she wants to share with anyone who has been made to feel the same way; as she says: “I want any talkative little girls who listen to know that they deserve attention, and that being ‘Too Much’ isn’t really a bad thing at all.”
The feelings experienced after losing a competition for the affections of a loved one are explored in Jealous of Her, the first single to be taken from the album. It’s a nice, light-yet-perfectly-formed pop song with an interesting double-tracked vocal and, once again, it’s the lyrics that make the song special, with lines like: “It’s a competition like it’s always been – I wish that I could make you jealous.”
And the sense of no compromise that pervades the album breaks the surface with the “One-Two-F*ck-You” intro to Better Than, another slice of self-analysis in which Ava considers the impact that her pounding energy and (outwardly) limitless confidence might have on those with whom she comes into contact. It’s a song in which Ava shows her folkier inclinations, with some nice slide guitar swooping over a strummed acoustic guitar backing and a fast, shuffling, drum rhythm.
The lyrics to the slow, contemplative, Tender My Love are relatively free from the trip-points and snags that are a feature of many of Ava’s songs, and the tune is equally soothing, with a pensive bassline and string effects setting the mood. And Ava becomes almost Dylanesque for the wordy, confident Save Me, as she overcomes her inhibitions to sneer lines like: “I will let you call me Baby – As long as you don’t try to save me.”
The album’s July single, Ears Bleed was the song that first brought the work of Ava Earl to our attention, and it still stands as one of the album’s real high points. The song’s lyrics provide graphic descriptions of the anguish Ava suffered as she attempted to come to terms with the permanent single-sided deafness that recently affected her right ear. As she has explained: “After going deaf in my right ear, I was left with emotions that took months to unravel, sort and explain. Six months in, I thought I had come to a semblance of peace when this song tumbled out of me, surprising me with a pain that was still so palpable.” She certainly pulls no punches, with lines like “Somewhere in the audience, the people are blissfully unaware of what it is to bleed,” but, as I concluded when I first heard the song, it’s stoicism rather than self-pity that Ava manages to convey as the song’s overwhelming emotion.
The energy of the raucous Resist You manages to stand out on an album that’s packed with energy – both visible and latent. A pulsing drumbeat and vibrant synths provide the backing as Ava makes her confused feelings known to a prospective partner. She sings in a carefree tone as she delivers lines like “What have I done? I’m running out of ides – I’m having too much fun.” It’s all highly upbeat, despite the confusion in the lyrics, and it leaves a happy aftertaste, even though we never get to hear the outcome of Ava’s deliberations. And, in complete contrast to the arrogant – if confused – confidence of Resist You, Ava wears her insecurities for all to see in the dreamy For Hell. Ava shares her most intimate confidences as she confesses “I can’t be too greedy when it’s you that I’m needing. Don’t break my heart.”
The folky Loved or Let Down is another of my absolute favourites. The lyrics are every bit as evocative and oblique as anything ever written by Paul Simon and the song’s folky guitar accompaniment is the perfect match for the wordy contemplations. Then, it’s back to the reconciliation of those ‘Too Much’ accusations for the excellent Things You Said. With lyrics like: “Here I am in my isolation chamber, just wishing to see you again. All this time it seems I was mistaken; you were more enemy than friend” Ava reconsiders old feelings of being too eager and too earnest – labels that used to make her feel embarrassed – and concludes that she was right all along.
And, after all the bouncy pop and bright, folky tunes that have provided such a counterpoint to Ava’s intimate contemplations and emotional reconciliations, there’s a soft, quiet one to wrap up this remarkable album. To gentle bowed and plucked string tones, Ava sings a soft ode to “A portrait of two people that I adore.” The identity of the two people isn’t shared, and the listener is left to speculate whether one (or even both) of them is Ava herself. Is that correct? I suspect that it might be.
And to conclude, let’s see how Ava herself summarized Too Much: “I am Too Much, and I don’t think that will change, but I do hope that this album can show other women and girls like me that being Too Much is actually a wonderful thing.”
Listen to Jealous of Her – the album’s lead single – here: