Album Review: Clare Follett’s Neck Deep

When EMI Records offered Kate Bush a complete creative control record deal at age 16, she’d already written some 200 songs. Such record deals are long gone, which on one hand, seems tragic when the likes of Kate Bush comes along.

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On the other hand, 15 year-old St. John’s native Clare Follett emerged from her basement this summer with her debut album, Neck Deep in tow, after sifting through 100+ original songs. Follett not only wrote, recorded, produced, and mixed the album herself, but also played just about every instrument on Neck Deep.

Follett writes in a decidedly poppier vein than Kate Bush ever did, but that’s not the point; the expansive talent is. Follet has accepted the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Junior Songwriting award for two consecutive years, and was most recently nominated for 3 MusicNL Awards: Pop/Rock Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and the Rising Star Award. She won the latter (alongside Town House).

Although Neck Deep is impressive in part because of Follett’s young age, it doesn’t take long for the album to quickly transcend this marker. The least developed songs would still knock your socks off if you stumbled upon a 15 year-old playing them at an open mic somewhere; the rest are songs some of your favourite pop artists would enlist a team to help write.

Follett gained attention in 2016 on her YouTube channel after covering the complete discography of Canadian band Marianas Trench, whom Follett credits as one of her biggest influences. Pop/punk elements can definitely be heard in some of the more uptempo songs like “Without You,” and “When Will I Let You Go,” but on the mid-tempo tracks, I’m reminded of Taylor Swift’s earlier catalogue, which is strange: I’ve got to be one of the only T-Swift holdouts I know, yet I don’t doubt Follett’s chops, or rail against the catchiness of her hooks, or sincerity of her songs for a second. She stretches at times, sure, but I’m just excited to watch her catch up to herself as she matures, particularly as a vocalist, and inevitably as a lyricist. Her deftness for arranging and phrasing is already fully there, as is her surprising maturity as a producer.

Indeed, she almost always resists the urge to meander or indulge, the songs’ turnarounds are tight, and just as sonically layered as they are restrained. The fact that Follett chose to include a conservative 8 songs from a pile of 100 speaks both to this effervescence and maturity: she has the confidence to push herself to go big, and the confidence to know when she doesn’t have to.

Beyond the catchiness of Follet’s songs, or her mastery of so many instruments, and recording gear, it’s her confidence to push herself in these two directions at once that’s most impressive. On Neck Deep’s second last song, “I Need You,” Follett sings “I just need some room to learn how to walk in my own shoes.” Ultimately, it’s Clare Follett’s talent and self-assuredness that will grow her into the artist she already knows she is. If there’s a holdover, complete-creative-control record deal floating around the universe somewhere, do send it her way. If not, rest assured, you’ll be hearing from Clare Follett just the same.

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