Album Review: la loye – to live underwater EP

[Self-released; 2021]

to live underwater is a journey through time. “Listening to these songs front to back almost feels like skipping through years of young adulthood within minutes,” explains Lieke Heusinkveld, aka la loye. The 24-year-old Dutch singer/songwriter has been working in various musical projects in the Netherlands’ music scene, but as la loye she puts the focus on herself. Her cautiously impressive debut EP burrows through feelings of self-doubt, depression, and quiet despair, making for a softly enrapturing collection of songs that wraps the listener up in Heusinkveld’s headspace for 20 minutes.

What’s striking about to live underwater is how remarkably assured and full it sounds for a debut. A testament to Heusinkveld’s talents, her songs are fleshed out where necessary, adding drums, sparkling synths, and horns to the mix, but also letting an intimate moment ring out when required; even when she sings about how vulnerable she’s feeling, every movement in her songs sounds considered down to minute detail. “white summer” is wrapped up in a bleary bleached mist, a muggy sun-soaked synth glaring through her acoustic guitar notes, all while Heusinkveld sings of struggling to make connections during the titular month (“I’ve never really felt comfortable in summer. I can often feel very gloomy and melancholic during this particular time of the year,” she explains of the song). Even amidst the forlorn sentiments (“It’s never the same without you, love”) there’s a wearied humour in her words. She’s self-effacing, but contemplative in equal measure.

It’s a balance she explores also on “i only hear you in my song”, which is a falling out of love song as self-reflective as they come, but without reveling in self-pity. A prelude to a breakup, the drama gradually reveals itself to Heusinkveld across the song as her guitar notes dance about a warm microphone hiss. “I didn’t miss you all night long / Now I only hear you in my song,” she coos, her voice trailing off on the final word as her breath draws inwards.

Amidst this melancholic air there’s still an aspirant sense of triumph that comes in the final two tracks, like Heusinkveld is breaking out of the despair that’s engulfing her. “i’m still asleep” begins with low-lit piano chords draped in deflated but serene brass, and for the first half of the song it lingers in this place. Singing with an anguish and tone similar to Julien Baker (“I wasn’t built to break for this”), the song almost seems ready to swallow itself in sadness. By the other end of the track, though, the horns are bright, dazzling and a little regal, drums raising the song into what feels like a hard-earned crescendo.

Come the following song “about imagining things” the tone is brighter – sprightly even, as guitars dance on top of gurgling electronics and starry synths that wander about each stereo channel. Even though Heusinkveld is calling for help (“I can’t figure this out without you”), she works her way through the demoralized moment and finds a way. As the track builds and spirals delightfully to an end, it feels like the reassuring conclusion to the EP’s stories of youthful despondency and isolation. Honestly though, this is just the beginning of la loye’s story, and based on her introduction here, the following chapters will be nothing short of wonderful.