Album Review: “Still Good”

Breathy vocals disguise broken relationships in Lisa Remar’s promising debut EP “Still Good,” a collection of songs that tell a story of lost love, heartbreak, and newfound freedom.

Lisa Remar’s debut EP “Still Good” presents a series of dreamy indie-pop songs united by a narrative thread of leaving bad relationships. Throughout the album, Remar navigates toxic relationship dynamics between friends, lovers, and relatives. The New York native utilizes her skills as both singer and songwriter to tell a story that’s equal parts sorrowful and sweet. 

The EP has six original songs: “Still Good (Intro),” “Halfway to Nowhere,” “Ride,” “Fell Into,” “Sonny,” and “You.” There is also a stripped-down version of “Fell Into” and a moody cover of Pink Floyd’s “Mother,” for a total of eight tracks in the project.

The first standout song on the album is “Halfway to Nowhere,” which weaves together a catchy hook from rhyming lines: “Brake lights, oh they burn so bright in front of me,” and “Take time, oh but don’t take mine then up and leave.” The verses build to a sailing chorus as Remar repeats her plea to be taken “halfway to nowhere” in a drifting voice that layers over itself. The song feels empowered because of lyrics that declare the singer limitless in the places she can go — even halfway to nowhere. 

Another strong track is “Sonny,” the album’s sixth and most mournful song. “Sonny” opens with a sample of a worn-out record crackling to life. It’s a fitting start given the song’s thematic nostalgia for a past relationship. In “Sonny,” Remar focuses on the positive memories of a relationship that, for one reason or another, did not last. At the song’s core is a refusal to move on, demonstrated by the lyrics: “I’ll just count to three/ start over again like it’s all fun and games.” Thus, the song traps its speaker and its listener in a loop of memories that restarts right before the breakup.

Remar’s lyrics are confessional in nature, recounting the casualties of various relationships gone wrong. The swaying pop ballad “Ride” calmly pokes holes in its subject’s apologies: “You never meant to hurt me/every time you hurt me,” Remar sings with airy indifference. The track “You,” which chronicles its speaker’s struggle to leave a physically abusive relationship, feels like an answer to the complaints voiced in “Ride.” Its pre-chorus explains, “Still the darkness we both share/ seems pale in comparison to when you’re not there.” It’s enough to make the listener question if the EP’s title “Still Good” is a true statement, or a false reply meant to prevent further interrogation.

“You” is not just a display of Remar’s lyrical inventiveness, but also her varied genre influences. While the majority of the tracks on “Still Good” possess an electronic feel, “You” is infused with a soulful rhythm. The chorus has Remar hitting low, drawn-out notes, interrupted by a slow guitar strum. Meanwhile, the retro track “Fell Into” showcases Remar’s New York roots. In an interview with Wonderland magazine, Remar revealed she wanted the song to be “an ode to Boom Bap,” an East Coast-born music production style from the mid-eighties. The alternating bass and snare drum sound that characterizes the style was made famous by hip-hop artists like Nas and The Notorious B.I.G.. 

The echoey drum beat behind “Fell Into” is a fitting homage to the Boom Bap style. However, the beat is quickly overtaken by Remar’s wispy vocals — arguably the true star of the album. Whether she’s crooning over a sparsely strummed guitar or a bumping beat, her voice maintains a breathy, ethereal tone reminiscent of pop idol Mariah Carey or, more recently, Billie Eilish’s 2017 hit “idontwannabeyouanymore.” 

However, the album is not perfect. Several tracks feel drawn out to their three-minute marks by redundant repetitions of their choruses. “Fell Into” is the most obvious victim of this effect: while Remar’s vocals start out strong, they’re eventually drowned out as the volume of the beat increases and speeds up. “Halfway To Nowhere,” the longest song on the EP, similarly crawls to a distorted ending. The once-pretty lyrics become fragmented, almost beyond comprehension, leaving the listener disoriented rather than moved.

This leads to the other problem I have with the album. Though it’s by no means a mainstream, familiar pop album, it doesn’t take any notable risks. For listeners looking for something completely new, it’s a disappointment. Many of the songs in the album’s first half feel as though they follow the same formula. It’s not unusual for a song to start slow and build to a bigger sound, but each of the opening four tracks does so at the same moments: each time the chorus repeats for a second and third round. Thus, whatever effect the listener might feel from the increase in energy and tempo is voided by the predictability of the change. Still, the combination of Remar’s sensitive lyrics and her stellar vocal performance makes up for these annoyances. Regardless of its flaws, “Still Good” is as cohesive as an album can be. When listened to in succession, the eight tracks meld into a silky soundscape that’s perfect for night drives and rainy days, for when you’re in your feelings or when you just can’t sleep. There are no jarring transitions, nor a song that feels out of place as Remar drifts from dream, to soul, to alt-pop. “Still Good” is a promising debut that proves Remar is one to watch for in the independent pop scene. You can stream “Still Good” on Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer, or by clicking here.

Grade: B
Release Date: Jan. 15th, 2021

Image courtesy of Atwood Magazine.

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