Since her pop culture breakthrough at age 14 covering Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” 19-year-old vocalist Birdy has flown somewhere off the radar over the past five years, but her third studio album, Beautiful Lies, places her square in the middle of the indie pop realm. Yet she’s not cut from that same soft-spoken folk cloth, and it’s no longer a cover that’s sending her upwards. Her third album is her own testament to talent and her proof that she’s only dipping her toe into the tropes of her genre to spring upward from them and float onto a cloud all her own. (If you came here looking for bird puns, you will find none.)
In Beautiful Lies, the young Briton employs a healthy assortment of catchy hooks and moving lyrics to sneak a handful of secret gems into a surprising if still familiar third legit record. Lyrically, the serene girl who channeled Bon Iver at 14 has now grown into her own torch songs. Piano ballads like “Shadow” and “Deep End” offer subdued refrains on the rarely-discussed uncertainty of love (“I don’t know if you mean everything to me/and I wonder can I give you what you need?” she croons in the latter). On the opposite side of the battlefield, the breezy survival anthem “Wild Horses” elicits a bold fist-pump of liberation (and just the slightest throwback to ‘80s R&B and ‘90s Alanis), while “Lifted” brings a splash of tranquil gospel that could have been, well, lifted right off an Adele album.
The major highlight is the album’s first single, “Keeping Your Head Up,” a radio- and remix-ready bop that’s her most accessible and most optimistic. It’s the best example of Birdy’s hook service, and she may very well have a monthly subscription. Even when she’s experimenting—like in “Words,” a well-crafted aria on reluctant farewells, or “Hear You Calling,” a nascent tiptoe into dreampop—the songs remain consistent, if still vibrant and varied.
Birdy describes the album as Japanese-themed, but those undertones are less evident in music than in artwork (she’s standing in water in a kimono, because why not?). But even if the Eastern influence isn’t overwhelming there, the rest of Beautiful Lies flows together smoothly, perfectly soothing, never quite reinventing the water wheel, but never quite having to.