Idalee is the alter ego of singer-songwriter Topher Hall, a former drug addict who succeeded in turning his life around after battling with drug abuse and narrowly escaping prison. His debut EP Starting Now is all about that journey to redemption; it’s a collection of bright, optimistic modern alt-pop songs about wiping the slate clean and getting back on your feet. Musically Idalee takes the bouncy, eclectic pop of OneRepublic and the thumping heart of Imagine Dragons and adds in a vocal sensibility borrowed from 90’s rock and pop-punk to create something pretty fresh and exciting.
Opening track “Starting Now” wastes no time introducing the theme of leaving the past behind and looking towards a brighter future, and the gloriously catchy melodies and Hall’s confident delivery turn it into a hugely successful comeback anthem. “Barbarian” features a verse built on funky acoustic guitar and a tongue-in-cheek vocal delivery reminiscent of Sum 41, before exploding into a huge chorus complete with raucous gang chants and super bouncy drums. Elsewhere Idalee shows a stronger alt-rock influence, such as on “Some Day” and the excellent “Fury”, which moves from a flowing acoustic verse to an epic, fist-pumping chorus full of driving electric guitars. The production on the EP is fantastic- turning Idalee’s straightforward, catchy tunes into pop gems by expertly layering crisp guitars, glowing synths, vocal harmonies and even a whistling old school organ to create a lush, varied sound.
The EP does falter towards the end as the tempo of the music tapers off- “Heal” is by no means terrible but Hall’s in-your-face vocal delivery doesn’t suit the slower, laid back groove. The song ends up being fairly forgettable, and the attempts at social commentary in the lyrics come across a bit heavy-handed. “Home” closes the EP with a gentle, touching piano ballad about returning to old haunts with a new perspective, having to face the demons of a past life and coming to terms with the fact that some things-and places-will always be a part of you. It’s the most honest moment on the album, and yet the high, delicate melody doesn’t play to Hall’s strengths as a vocalist, making for a hesitant start to the song. The chorus is undeniably beautiful, helped out by some gorgeous female backing vocals, and by the time the final verse challenges you to “make a clear mark on the place you know and love” it wins you over despite a few shaky moments.
In the end Starting Now contains five and a half great songs out of seven, which is more than good enough for a debut. Idalee is clearly a guy who has been through more hard times and struggles than your typical up-and-coming songwriter, and when that level of emotional depth is combined with songs as slick and memorable as these then the result is something special. Idalee may have overcome a dark past but his future is looking pretty bright.