Grace VanderWaal - Just the Beginning
Nov 4, 2017 (updated Dec 29, 2017)

Grace VanderWaal's debut album entitled “Just the Beginning” is a tour-de-force work of art. Thirteen year old VanderWaal channels something soulful and grand from the ether and has produced a varied and at times heart-wrenching collection of songs that defy what someone her age should be capable of.

Each track is radically different from every other song on the album, but there is a thread, beyond the rangy and surprisingly deep and powerful voice of VanderWaal, which ties these songs together.

This artist is concerned with an earnest exploration of the human condition, on recognizing faults within ourselves, but also inspiring us to overcome those challenges, self-imposed or otherwise, by confronting what is troubling us and moving beyond them.

VanderWaal has created art, where other lesser pop singers settle for catchy, and has established a foothold for the weary and disenfranchised radio listener to hope for the future.

Grace VanderWaal is constantly hailed as “The Next Taylor Swift” in the media, but she is far more than that. She is Lorde with a more philosophically sound foundation and stronger vocal ability, and possesses a willingness to buck the trend of writing exclusively about failed relationships or longing for ones that she knows will destroy her. VanderWaal writes and performs music that you not only want your children to listen to, but songs you want to savour and reflect on. To imagine what she will be capable of in a few years is truly humbling.

“Just the Beginning” indeed.

Track by Track Review:

Track 1. Moonlight:

This track introduces a richer sound from VanderWaal, though one still very much driven by her signature ukulele (now made official by Fender) sound.

The song is an exercise in juxtaposing its melancholy lyrics against an upbeat chorus. The verses reflect the concern and observation of a friend on the brink of a nervous collapse, while the chorus is a lamentation on the days when she and the suffering friend were more carefree, and felt as though they were “dancing in the moonlight”.

My favourite lines in the song are:
“Now she lost her way
And she forgets to smile
Never gets a break
From this life in denial”

I believe the “denial” at the end of the line refers to her friend’s unwillingness, or inability, to recognize the opportunities that are presented to her, but like most of us, she shuns them, and chooses to believe she is destined for misery. This is pretty heady stuff for a thirteen year old girl to not only understand, but compose in a song, and appropriate kudos should be afforded her for pulling this off so deftly.

My only real issue with this track is the overproduction of the backing vocals, which detract from the melody and Grace’s lead vocals, but I admit it’s just a personal nitpick.

4 out of 5 stars

Track 2. Sick of Being Told:

This, to my ear, is the weakest track off the album, but that is mainly due to a ridiculous amount of overproduction on what should be a simple folk-indie track. The producers (who otherwise did phenomenal work on Melanie Martinez’ “Cry Baby” EP) attempted to transform the song into something it wasn’t ever meant to be. The intrusive echo effects on Grace’s voice are completely unnecessary and detract from the lyrics. This song, however, does have a few of the best and most mysterious lines off of the entire album…

“I see stars, you just see holes in the sky
You tell me you see it too, but I know that's a lie
I dream I’m in the night, just see the darkness of your eyes
I won't let you change me tonight”

It introduces the main theme, though only one of many, of this album. This will all sort itself out by the last track, and I’ll explain then what is going on here.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Track 3. Burned

This song introduces us to some of the depth of VanderWaal’s new sound, and it is impressive. The song is a cautionary tale to not overeach, or at least recognize when something is destructive and to move on. VanderWaal’s vocals here showcase a vulnerability and lightness, punctuated with a palpable frustration toward the end.

The lyrics are strong…

“You don't need to save me
Oh, how I have grown
I am capable of everything you can see, but now I want to change”

Again, that last line will be revisited later on my review of the last track.

4 out of 5 stars

Track 4. Just a Crush

This track reunites VanerWaal with the producer from her EP “Perfectly Imperfect”. This is the most familiar sound for America’s Got Talent fans of VanderWaal, as it is very folksy and very much a ukulele driven song. The lyrics are simple and light, but speak to a very familiar plight of pretty girls everywhere who must constantly friend-zone would-be suitors they're not interested in. What should come across as harsh and possibly even cruel, through VanderWaal’s voice, sounds endearing. The lightest track on the album, but also one of the catchiest.

4 out of 5 stars

Track 5. So Much More Than This

VanderWaal completely sheds her old sound for something quirky-cool, danceable and very contemporary. The song begins with a simple acoustic guitar establishing the beat while VanderWaal low-key raps quite proficiently until she enters the chorus in full voice to establish a melody to the track. It cautions on how one should not waste their time on obsessing over the meaningless drivel we constantly find ourselves drawn to in modern life; social media, bullying, micro-dramas, and pettiness. VanderWaal’s advice is to shut off the technology that can so easily enslave us, take a deep breath and “just wake up!”

4 out of 5 stars

Track 6. Escape My Mind

This track is a strange kind of rockabilly-punk song about wanting to escape her obsessive thoughts over a crush…and it all somehow works. This is a ridiculously catchy song. The horn section drives the beat and gives an old-school rock and roll (50s) sound, but her vocals are more akin to punk and grunge, and she’s shockingly good at it.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Track 7. Talk Good

A complex, but enjoyable production, again mixing elements of rap and singing reminiscent of old school No Doubt. The song explores obsessing over a failed attempt at communication that everyone can relate to. The strongest lines are found in the bridge…
“My words, my mind
Are worth all your time”

4 out of 5 stars

Track 8. Florets

The catchiest and most atmospheric track on the album, and also the most romantic. This is VanderWaal’s first attempt at a love song, and it’s rock solid. The track is hypnotic and grabs the listener.

The most engaging lyrics…
“Wherever the wind blows
Ever the wind blows
Don’t let go”

So simple, but so desperately imploring. The first line could be considered trite, but following it up with “Ever the wind blows” makes it poignant, because it recognizes that no matter where she and her loved one go, there will be problems, and that there always will be problems, but that she needs that person to never let go despite that knowledge…in a dance track. Beautiful.

4.5 out of 5

Track 9. Insane Sometimes
Wow! This is the most fully fleshed out song thus far and feels the most mature. The lyrics are more abstract than she usually employs, but it’s extremely catchy and again danceable, but with a wonderful string section. This is a really terrific song. This feels like a glimpse into her future sound, and if it is then I’m excited for it.

4.5 out of 5

Track 10. A Better Life

Things are getting serious now. The vocal performance on this song is quite simply stunning, as are the lyrics. VanderWaal’s power as a singer is for the first time properly introduced on this very moving track about rebooting one’s life when things have gotten too far out of control. There is even a line that I believe refers to drug abuse, and how self-medicating is never a solution, but simply a temporary relief that will eventually worsen one’s situation.

Check this out…
“You found a lighter
On the street
And suddenly everything just
Seems so happy
Oh, my honey, it's all temporary”

5 out of 5

Track 11. City Song

This is VanderWaal’s first attempt at an anthem/ode to Manhattan, and while it isn’t as moving, or as musically or lyrically complex as say Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” or Alecia Keys “Empire State of Mind”, it is a very solid, but simple song, about appreciating the beauty in the chaos of city life. She does this by comparing the sounds of the city to the instruments in a grand song that we all sing and play everyday even though we don’t necessarily realize it.

4 out of 5

Track 12. Darkness Keeps Chasing Me

Easily the strongest track on an already strong album, this is a transcendent song for VanderWaal that should forever completely wipe away any doubt that she is the real deal and will be a force to be reckoned with in the music industry for decades to come.

Beyond the brilliance of the song itself, VanderWaal’s vocals are astonishingly accomplished here. Her use of dynamics, unique phrasing, and flat out belting-for-her-life are nothing short of stunning. This song cannot be fairly described in words, it must be experienced.

I promised back on tracks 2 and 3 (Sick of Being Told and Burned, respectively) that the theme of change would be a recurring one. On Sick of Being Told she is defiant saying that, “You won’t change me tonight”, and in Burned she says, “I am capable of everything you can see, but now I want to change”. With both songs she’s taking ownership of her ability and willingness to change; it will come on her terms. In Darkness Keeps Chasing Me, however, she states “I will be different, I'm not sure if I can do it all alone”, and then pleads with the listener, or God with, “God, I want to be different, but I'm not sure if I can do it on my own”, recognizing that she may need help after all. Most people live the entirety of their lives without ever coming close to learning that lesson.

5 out 5
Nov 4, 2017
Mr Lalonde, God I love reading things by other people that I totally agree with. Miss Vanderwaal is nothing short of astonishing. She is an acient soul and a breath of fresh air. Thank you for the independent verification and validation of this layman's opinion. Oh what a beginning...
Nov 5, 2017
Agree 1000 % with this review! She blows me away in the BEST possible sense!
Nov 5, 2017
A great album indeed --thanks for reviewing. Thou art Shakespeare in the flesh, and the successor of Walt Disney

because you have to be in disneyland to write some of this shit
Nov 5, 2017
Ia very good :D
Nov 6, 2017
LOL, pouls
Nov 6, 2017
Nov 6, 2017
I little too much praise but I do agree with you, Mark
Nov 6, 2017
Calm down there buddy. :)
Nov 7, 2017
Nov 7, 2017
I couldn't have said it better

Nov 8, 2017
Great review of the tracks, Mark. Thank you.
Nov 8, 2017
Appreciated your analysis Mark. Well done!
Nov 8, 2017
appreciated the depth and earnestness of this review and wanted to read more but sadly this is the only review by this p̶u̶b̶l̶i̶c̶i̶s̶t̶ reviewer.
Nov 8, 2017
I'm not a publicist for the record company or Grace. If I were I'd be doing a better job than the twits at Columbia Records 'promoting' this album.
Nov 8, 2017
well good job. they owe you.
Nov 8, 2017
"So Much More Than This" should be a solid 5/5.
Nov 8, 2017
MortalManny, I did what all annoying teachers do with this album review. I scored it on a curve. What I mean is, if "Darkness Keeps Chasing Me" is a 5/5, then I can't, in good conscience, score "So Much More Than This equally, because it isn't. I can understand your frustration, but I was simply trying to be fair. Grace really shouldn't have hit it so far out of the ball park with "Darkness Keeps Chasing Me", it and "A Better Life" skewed the results for the other tracks.
Nov 9, 2017
Hi @MarkLalonde can i use your review as a cite for my thesis?
I'm gonna give u a s/o
Nov 10, 2017
i work at channel 8 local news in nebraska and i'd love to have you on our morning news hour for an interview about grace's ability you sound very knowledgeable on the subject and i'm our viewers would love to hear about it, contact me if you want to do it via phone or email. thanks for your time

Telephone 402-436-2250 Email: [email protected]
Nov 10, 2017
I agree with David E in that you put in words my owe thought about Grace and her ability. I find it very interesting that on YouTube "Darkness Keeps Chasing Me" received more thumb down votes than thumb up votes. When I listened to the album I came away thinking that "Darkness Keeps Chasing Me" is by far the best song on the entire album.
Nov 11, 2017
Hi PJE, Thanks very much. Not to be argumentative, but to clarify "Darkness Keeps Chasing Me" on Grace's Vevo channel has 10,000 likes vs. 47 dislikes, meaning 99.53% of those who voted, liked the video.
Nov 11, 2017
The 47 dislikes are probably haters
Nov 17, 2017
MarkLalonde Thank for your very thoughtful, well reasoned, and interesting review points. about GraceV's new album.

Indeed,the overproduced tracks annoyed and saddened me. They need to treating her art with the Less Is More plcipal.

Your brief assessment about the lousy marketing of the album concerns me as well. If I'm not mistaken,they released her new album the same time as Taylor's dropped.

Regardless,the album is g
Nov 17, 2017
Thanks BennyJets. The record company did not properly support Grace's single "So Much More Than This" to radio, nor did they drop a music video to promote it, despite having filmed it back in late September. It appears, however, that despite their inaction, Grace is featured in an article in Time Magazine today and will be honoured with the Rising Star award by Billboard Magazine at their annual Women in Music Awards at the end of the month, so things are looking up.
Nov 18, 2017
Thanks MarkLalond Grace will hopefully succeed despite typical marketing disappointments, because she isn't just "different" and "great". She's miraculous, powerfully affecting, and strongly cherished within a surprising range demographics. She's an angelic imp comforting and encouraging many souls in need of sanity, humanity, positivity, and beauty that lights the current gloom and lightens our burdens.
Nov 18, 2017
Wow. I just googled the Billoard honor for Grace on November 30th. Great recognition/encouragement/exposure /opportunity for her! She's also listed as one of the performers. As a fan, I'm anxious for her to pick the right song for that audience. IMHO, the song needs to smartly balance being 1) high impact emotive 2) relatable by audience 3) socially resonant 3) best suited to vocals strengths 4) free of gimmicky over production. What song is best for the audience, and the other considerations?
Nov 18, 2017
BennyJets, that's easy..."Darkness Keeps Chasing Me" is the perfect song to play the Billboard Women in Music Awards. Just Grace with a microphone, a cello, and a guitar. Doesn't get better than that.
Jan 28, 2018
Hi Mark. Have you listened to one of the bonus tracks of the album tilted "Lungs"? I'm curious what you think of it. I liked it a lot. A lot a lot. I think future sound of Grace's songs.
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