The singer-songwriter’s debut LP, Freya Ridings, combines six previously released singles and six new offerings. Ridings showcases the fact that she’s written all 12 songs herself, collaborating along the way with in-demand producer Greg Kurstin (Maggie Rogers, Adele) and others. Ridings’ admirable creative control gives the album a cohesive tone and thematic scope, but it also permits stretches of repetition and the occasional cliché. Though she explores heartbreak and longing by probing surprisingly dark corners of her psyche, the album’s steadiness of vision renders the product of that exploration somewhat monochrome.
Opener “Poison” greets the listener with a coy fake-out: Ridings begins with a delicate piano melody hinting at a somber, stripped-down track in the vein of “Lost Without You,” but after a suspended chord at the end of the first verse, the track exhales into a tantrum of thudding drums, anxious string bowing, and dramatic keyboard chords.
In Ridings’ songs, love is torture, and crushing on someone is a form of noble suffering. Motifs of fire and blood run through her lyrics, conjuring a gothic atmosphere that draws the listener in but also starts to feel predictable. “Castles” and “Love Is Fire” create upbeat self-empowerment anthems out of this intensity, while “Blackout” and “Ultraviolet” find Ridings in her comfort zone, dwelling in romantic angst at the piano.
Although Freya Ridings suggests room for growth, it also hints at the artist’s willingness to tread new ground, even if it feels a bit shaky at first. The striking “Holy Water” suggests an instinct for stylistic experimentation that remains latent on some of the album’s more monotonous tracks. With handclaps, tambourine shakes, and energetic backing vocals, the song references religious revival music to conjure a satanic vision of romantic obsession: “You keep me holding on / To the devil that I love in you.” Ridings possesses plenty of innate talent but, equally as important, a willingness to take risks that are necessary for creative evolution.