In a world where it seems like any young person with a decent singing voice and the ability to craft a handful of songs can end up building a significant following, it can be hard for a musician to distinguish oneself amidst all the current musical trends. 18-year-old Lena Fayre’s debut full-length album OKO occasionally feels like a deliberate attempt to follow said trends and there are times where it’s hard not to invite comparisons to fellow teenage indie-pop sensation Lorde. The fact that the opening beat from the former’s Every Man sounds eerily like the one from the latter’s smash hit Royals doesn’t exactly help in that regard. Fortunately, Fayre is able to put a distinctive spin on most of these album’s tracks, but it’s debatable just how effectively this works.
Lead single and opening track I Am Not A Man makes for an impressive introduction with its plunging beat and silky-smooth vocals. The synthesisers are used to strong effect, as are the various examples of looped vocals that help sell Fayre’s melancholy, lovelorn lyrics. The Tiger’s Bride starts off quietly but once the drums kick in Fayre takes the opportunity to showcase how strong and passionate her vocals can be.
Everybody’s In is a pleasant yet passable tune that’s once again marked by the passion and energy Fayre puts into a hook that combines sharp percussion and various types of keyboards. Gold Standard King marks another torch song where Fayre pours her heart out over a slow but catchy beat (this time featuring claps) and some striking keyboard parts.
Games intrigues with its opening synthesiser hook. Though it has a lot of the same features as the preceding tracks, the inclusion of a rap verse in the song’s second half is a surprising addition and I am still not sure whether or not its sudden inclusion enhances the song or hinders it. Either way, the song also introduces strings and a catchy beat underneath said rap and they certainly sound impressive on their own.
I Remember makes another change by introducing acoustic guitar to the mix, though the vocals and lyrics are once again sombre ruminations on a love gone cold. Ophelia combines piano and strings to great effect and thus the album continues its pattern of songs where the variations in the backing music become more interesting than Fayre’s singing. Even so, she holds her own by demonstrating her remarkable range through constant alternating between soft, airy vocals and lengthy, powerful notes.
Start A War catches the ear with the intermittent strums of an electric guitar over a tightly-wound beat, while Fayre’s vocals take on a subtle blend of anger and sadness that fit the lyrics comparing a breakup to, well, starting a war. The eventual inclusion of high-pitched backup vocals and horns in the background are a welcome addition. The aforementioned Royals-like beat in Every Man is the only notably derivative aspect of the song, with Fayre leading a variety of instruments and backup vocal tracks around another moody song of decent quality.
I Am A Soul features another smooth synthesiser-based hook while Fayre’s vocals lilt pleasantly over a brief but sweet-sounding song. Closing track Intimacy Is Me brings things full-circle with a slow beat similar to the one on I Am Not a Man. However, Fayre applies all sorts of filters and effects to the vocals, which combine with the careful music to make for a track that paradoxically sounds calm and erratic at the same time. Though some of the vocal work does sound cool, its combination with such a chilled-out melody is a bit jarring. More often than not, it feels like a heavy-handed attempt to show off an experimental side without much consideration for how it fits into the song as a whole. This is a shame considering how well Fayre was able to juggle multiple instruments on other tracks.
Lena Fayre may be young but OKO shows that she certainly has the raw talent necessary to make some kind of mark on the current musical landscape. Of course, this album is far from perfect and there are certainly elements on these songs that could definitely use refining, but for the most part Fayre knows how to organise various different instruments and provide consistently strong vocal performances. At the very least, there’s more to this album than just the promise of improvement.