In the same year as his coming of age, after what seems like an eternity in the industry, young Australian singer Cody Simpson has also cut ties with former major label Atlantic Records. After a five-year run as the boy next door-come-tween pop singer, Simpson finally has abandoned the bubble-gum sound and image that defined his early career, seizing the opportunities of independent music making and complete creative control. His most recent album Free, released by his own label Coast House Records, embodies Simpson’s new stripped back approach to music, yielding breezy, guitar-driven pop-rock deeply informed by the singer’s love for blues and roots. While the title’s symbolism isn’t particularly subtle, it expresses the young man’s current place in his personal and professional development.
The title track opens the record with a strong indication of Free’s primary attitude. Written about a girl he spotted on Venice Beach, Free praises bare feet and laid back sentiments over relaxed riffing and unfussy percussion. The finer guitar work in Driftwood also inspires a carefree breeziness, sustained by gentle singing and hassle-free vocal runs that are pleasantly sparing, and as simple as the song’s interwoven metaphor itself. As Simpson eventually makes excitable sense of his itinerant existence the track kicks up a notch with the addition of electric guitars and more insistent drumming.
One of the more catchy tracks from the album, New Problems is an infectious and endearing exploration of adolescent moodiness, revealing the beginnings of a really lovely vocal tone that could become something more with a few more years of maturing. I’m Your Friend is a simple song awash with naïve sincerity and pure joy, while Wilderness does away with any trace of slick production; instead Simpson opted to include it in its raw demo form. Love Yourself is also on the heavier or ‘messier’ side of Simpson’s influences. The self-described “bluesy stomper” has a bit more of a groove about it, and elicits grittier tones from Simpson’s young voice. Among the blithe sounds of Simpson’s originals, Free also includes a cover of Donavon Frankenreiter’s It Don’t Matter featuring the original artist himself, whose more sensual, gravelly delivery is complimented well by Simpson.
While it might be hard to initially take Simpson’s first independent release at face value due to his past as a poppy tweenster, Free is truly overflowing with sincerity, as effortful as it sometimes appears. It will certainly not grab you by the ears and demand your full attention; but Free will provide the perfect background music to the countless beachside bonfires and summer road trips that characterise those late teen years.