Lilith Ai: Bare Radical – EP review

Review by Kris Smith, Photos by Keira Anee at LOUD WOMEN Fest 2019

First – a confession. ‘Bare Radical’ by Lilith Ai was released during the summer of 2019 and I was not paying full attention. Despite catching her set three years ago at the first Loud Women festival, the artist had fallen off my radar a little during the three years since her first ‘Riot’ EP of that September. But she has my attention now, and as the only solo performer at this month’s Loud Women Fest 4 she had the attention of an entire room armed only with acoustic guitar and electric charisma. The Loud Women audience is in the main a respectful one, to be sure, but it’s still quite a feat to get any crowd to shut the fuck up for the token quiet song in a set, let alone a whole performance. Lilith held us in, and eating out of, the palm of her hand, while hanging on her every word. 

Lilith Ai – photo by Keira Anee at LOUD WOMEN Fest 2019

Luckily her words are worth hanging on to, and likewise the music. January’s excellent EP2 ‘Native Tongue’ was self-described “lo-fi indie folk with soulful flavour,” albeit far more varied and produced than that soundbite suggests, but EP3 ‘Bare Radical’ defies presumption/classification/limitation and represents a further step forward for this DIY singer, songwriter and artist (the brilliant artwork is all hers too).

‘Warrior Queen’ is built around a huge chorus seemingly aiming for pop anthem status but still has the chutzpah to segue into a furious punk denouement. The succeeding title track is part plaintive defiance (“I’m sorry, I’m not sorry”), part ‘I Will Survive’ rap and an ellipsis where a final chorus would be if the artist needed to milk it and hadn’t yet learned the power of leaving the listener wanting more. ‘Blue Jeans’ throws a further curveball with an idiosyncratic take on indiepop – and the EP is only getting started. ‘Long Way Down’ gilds a polyrhythmic reggae skank with snatches of JA toasting and British slang like a lost guest-vocal track from Sandinista!, while final song ‘Underdogs’ is heartfelt glitch-gospel meets kitchen-sink R&B ballad, showing off – as does each preceding track – the versatility of Lilith’s mellifluous vocals. 

Touching on political and personal narratives, and exploring multiple genres and heritages without once feeling forced or tokenistic, this EP demonstrates a breadth of creative potential crying out for the wider reception and greater attention that a full-length album and attendant media exposure could provide. Do your bit and just buy the EP already, because this is, Lilith is, the real deal. To quote the first song here, she comes correct.

Bare Radical is out now. EP4 is due later this year.

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