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teddy ♡ - LillyAnna Music Album Reviews

On her solo debut as teddy♡, the veteran songwriter turns from writing hits for Shawn Mendes and One Direction to establishing her own voice.

In the mid-’00s, Teddy Geiger was a somewhat reluctant member of a group of artists that also included Jesse McCartney and Ryan Cabrera. Some came from boy bands, others from reality TV—Geiger got her start on a show searching for a “new Partridge family”—but their music was much the same: exceedingly soft pop-rock that seemed made less for arenas than rom-coms or the soapy likes of “Laguna Beach.” (The video for Geiger’s biggest hit, “For You I Will (Confidence),” starred a then-A-list Kristin Cavallari.) It wasn’t a particularly remarkable run, nor did Geiger like it much—“I didn’t connect to what was happening on radio with singer-songwriter stuff at the time,” she told Rolling Stone—and after a couple sporadic forays into acting, she retired to pursue songwriting more to her own taste. Some of those songs would end up recorded by the 2010s’ crop of Ryan Cabreras, like One Direction, 5 Seconds of Summer, and, most notably, Canadian singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes, whose biggest hits (“Stitches,” “Treat You Better”) are Geiger-penned. LillyAnna, her debut as teddy♡ (It looked “cute,” she told Rolling Stone) is her coming out, both in the literal sense (Geiger came out as transgender last fall) and figuratively, as a solo artist of her own making.

Teddy joins more and more of her peers who have been lured toward solo careers by the industry’s increasingly Darwinian royalty structure. Though singer-songwriters have won some victories lately in the battle to actually get paid, the “singer” part is still far more lucrative than “songwriter.” But songwriters looking to become lead artists face two pitfalls. The first is to treat solo albums as a sort of clearinghouse for rejected tracks. The other, counterintuitively, is to release an album full of would-be hits, the same finely wrought smashes they shop to superstars—except without the superstars. This rarely works out as well as they hope. No matter how undeniable the songs, they’re still haunted by the ghosts of other artists’ voices, when emerging artists need to establish their own.

LillyAnna, named after an online alter-ego of Geiger’s, was written in the early 2010s. As a result, the album exists completely outside ’00s pop trends, which is part of its charm. The sun-kissed pop-rock of “Under the Blue” sounds a lot sweeter in 2018 than 2005, as do the lilting melody and “Here Comes the Sun” lifts of “Life Goes On,” or the VH1 scuzz of the title track. (They also, strangely, sound a thousand times better than anything Mendes has ever recorded.) Though the album was written pre-transition, Geiger wrote it from a place of searching—a “kind of all clouded” mental space, she said on Beats 1 Radio—and the subtext is noticeable and lends the album gravitas missing from the “Laguna Beach” days. The lyrics of “Under the Blue” fall like a warm hug. Geiger spits the verses of “I Was in a Cult” out with contempt, then roars the chorus like stomping on their ashes.

As an introduction to Teddy♡, LillyAnna isn’t perfect. The album’s a bit ballad-heavy, and when it departs from formula it’s not for the better—as on the distorted, Jeff Bhasker-ish R&B of “Loser,” a concession to modern tastes that comes off as also-ran Kehlani or James Blake. Sometimes there’s still a sense of holding back. “Get Me High” and “Body and Soul” sit at the exact midpoint of the Strokes, Carina Round, and Brittany Howard, and Teddy’s fuzzed-out vocal is pure glee; they’re just produced a little tinny, particularly in the percussion. (Every so often, in “Body and Soul,” a bit of twinkling keys or guitar squeals will pop out of the arrangement, like beacons from some other, more dynamic song.) But it still sets a more cohesive mood than a lot of her peers, a point best illustrated by “8,” an instrumental interlude in the middle of the album. It begins pleasant and drifty, but toward the middle, the chords go dissonant and the arrangement’s interrupted by what sounds like fences creaking or metal clattering. A high, pealing note wavers, flatting momentarily. Geiger’s said she’s interested in “roughing up pop music a bit”; this is proof of concept.

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