Lamplight fails to reflect Katie Costello’s potential

Fans of Ingrid Michaelson, Sara Bareilles and KT Tunstall will enjoy the similar musical stylings of up-and-comer Katie Costello. The 20-year-old pop and alternative singer/songwriter recently released her second full-length album, Lamplight, to mixed reviews.

Searching · Katie Costello’s newest album, Lamplight, contains some hidden gems, but mostly shows her struggle to make herself stand out. - Photo courtesy of Tiny Tiny Records

Costello’s voice is silky and her songs are beautifully melodic. Yet, on the first few listens, I couldn’t help but feel wary.

Perhaps it’s because I am a devoted Ingrid Michaelson fan, but I could not shake the thought that Costello’s sound is a shallow echo of Michaelson’s, who has endorsed the new artist.

Michaelson even tweeted, “If you are looking for a cute blonde babe to soothe you with her maple syrup voice look no further than @katiemusic. new album rox.”

Costello has blonde pixie hair and a mismatched, cool style. She is a self-proclaimed “song doodler, inter-web philosopher, absurdist and music farmer.”

It’s quirky, it’s cute and it’s a lot like the angle everybody else is taking.

Costello resembles Michaelson, Bareilles and the whole host of currently popular alternative, poppy female artists. Without their shadow, Costello would be incredibly intriguing, since her off-beat style and classic-turned-pop vocals are remarkable.

Unfortunately, this narrow genre has become too popular, and is currently ruled by the aforementioned giants.

On the positive side, Costello is notably talented in her own right and Lamplight’s 12 tracks are diverse, with several stand-outs.

Out of Our Minds” and “Ashes Ashes” are inspired and excellent lay-on-your-bed-looking-up-at-the-ceiling kinds of songs. Costello gets the listener in a  contemplative mood as she sings let’s get out of our minds today /and take a little time to look at the stars and the moon above.

“Ashes Ashes” is more lighthearted, as Costello mimics the rhythm of the nursery school tune, “Ring Around the Rosy,” with lines like ashes, ashes, we fall and float away.

Cassette Tape,” however, is an immature diary of social anxiety, which is entertaining at face value but becomes too  inexperienced when Costello sings, I wish there was a social excuse to make you a cassette tape.

Despite such self-indulgent statements, Costello is surprisingly affable and more mature than she gives herself credit for.

She is an observer, with deep insights into human character, as demonstrated in “Old Owl.” She sings cold by the fireplace’s haunting gold size / You are dwarfed by your own self-loathing, ambitious tendencies. It is this brand of songwriting that could help really set her apart from other similar singer songwriters.

Costello posted on her Facebook that she “writes songs that are meant to be revisited and experienced over and over again,” and that her “music seems to reward those who are searching and wanting something more than what is presented at the surface.”

Yet, Lamplight is a mixed bag that doesn’t reflect this thought process and Costello’s potential.

Her music has a pure quality, as well as an appealing honesty and vulnerability. But she needs to turn off her radio and avoid being an inadvertent copy-cat.

Costello’s sound in Lamplight reflects the comfortable niche she and dozens of other popular songstresses have fallen into. It’s tired and holding Costello back from noteworthiness.

Still, she is young and has plenty of time to settle into a distinctive style all her own.

Lamplight shines brighter than this first effort, Kaleidoscope Machine, though songs from that album have been featured on 90210, One Tree Hill and Private Practice.

Costello has a sort of captivating quality and energy that transcends her somewhat lackluster compositions. Hopefully, her next album will reflect her untapped maturity and insight on life’s deeper experiences.