When Lindsey Stirling first appeared on America’s Got Talent back in 2010, she showcased a violin performance that was unlike anything anyone had seen before. Her choreographed violin performances were on a whole new level; it sparked excitement across the web and around the globe. She’s not your average classical violinist – she infuses a range of contemporary influences to her classical training, creating a hybrid genre of classical and electronic dance music. Four years, a world tour and a platinum selling record later, Stirling is back with her second studio album Shatter Me – and it’s just as intense as the nature of her performances.
Stirling once confided, “the only reason why I am successful is because I stayed true to myself.” It’s an accurate statement – Stirling’s musical style is unique in that she morphs the old with the new. The album’s opener Beyond the Veil pretty much sums up the musical style of the rest of the album: virtuosic violin melodies fused with modern dubstep. The result is quite intense and cinematic, like something you’d expect to hear from a Hollywood action film. Stirling’s technical ability is flawless, as you would expect – she brazenly explores all ranges of her instrument and techniques such as harmonics and double stopping are used embellish her pieces. The melodies can best be described as sky-scraping and psychotic; in Mirror Haus you can hear the bow weaving frantically along the strings, over a studio produced dance beat. The accompaniment is rousing, but at times it seems as though there’s so much going on in the backing track that they beauty of the violin is lost amongst the electronic hubbub.
Stirling is also open to pop influences, as heard in the aptly named V-Pop. It’s got a Kylie Minogue club feel to it, with clapping beats and an auto-tuned backing vocal accompanying her. No stranger to employing vocals in her tracks, Stirling enlists the help of Lizzy Hale in Shatter Me. Beginning with a winding of a music box, the track has a powerful chorus and haunting melodies, but a disappointing bass drop. After getting excited by the hype of the chorus, Stirling drops a lacklustre dubstep mix with bits of violin etched between, and it leaves you feeling cheated. Nonetheless, it’s still one of the stronger tracks of the album, largely attributed to Hale’s passionate vocals. In comparison, Dia Frampton’s vocals in We Are Giants are more delicate and ethereal. This track is more radio-friendly, with a catchy hook and euphoric chorus that would fit well in summer festivals. It’s a clear winner and dance floor filler, but frankly, Stirling sounds displaced in this setting. The violin mimics the singer’s melody but the sound is so harsh against Frampton, it creates an odd contrast and places listeners in a position where we’re not sure who to focus on.
Then again, it’s difficult to focus on the album as a whole when a lot of the tracks follow the same formula. Take Heist – yet another intense, cinematic number to add to the track list. Sterling would benefit from slowing things down; eventually, all the hyperactive phrases end up blurring together into a messy, 50 minute electronic mix. Although Take Flight begins with a beautiful, mourning violin and piano arrangement, the beats begin to build up and before you can roll your eyes, another dance break-beat takes over. This edge-of-your-seat business seems to be Stirling’s forté, but it loses its shine when it begins to sound like an endless loop of build-ups and come-downs.
You have to give it to Stirling, though. She’s a virtuosic violinist with remarkable talent, performing with such gusto that it’s hard not to get swept away with her. The music is innovative and she seems to be one of the few musicians exploring this niche market. There’s so many good things with this album but it sounds as though she’s playing it safe – it would truly be a standout if she showcased some musical versatility. Nevertheless, Stirling’s sound works surprisingly well, and no doubt it would have audiences appreciate the violin afterwards.