Feature Friday: Kelsey Hayes

Feature Friday: Kelsey Hayes

With starry-eyed love songs and scorned-lover anthems saturating the airwaves, it can be easy to forget that that pop can be earnest and still be catchy as hell. It’s refreshing, then, that Ottawa-based singer-songwriter Kelsey Hayes’ new EP, In My Mind,  serves as a sterling reminder, proving that the best indie-pop can convey complexity and passion in the same breath.

This three-song outing is Hayes’ second EP, and takes listeners along a young woman’s journey in navigating the affronts, vulnerabilities, and perils she encounters on the pilgrimage to love. Rather than bogging this down in overwrought clichés, however, Hayes explores these themes in a free-wheeling, energetic way that never drains any of its fervor. This wraps this effort in catchy sincerity, and anyone who has ever been in a relationship will immediately recognize themselves in Hayes’ heartfelt and honest songwriting.

While this confessional EP is just a few songs, it nevertheless packs a lot of feeling. With airtight harmonies, catchy grooves, and forthright storytelling, these three tracks represent some genuine, bare-it-all experiences. It’s a testament to Hayes’ talent that these are somehow also able to articulate some of the most complex experiences of relationships, all while balancing pop appeal with jazzy, soulful sentiments.

As an example, “Love me” is a stirring homage to that all-too-familiar feeling of needing to find companionship and distraction after a break-up. The song is grounded by pared-back acoustic guitar and bathed in airy harmonic ambience, as back-up harmonies lend all the complexity that is needed to support Hayes’ striking performance. Unsurprisingly, this tune is currently nominated in the Singer/Songwriter category at the Canadian Songwriting Competition.

This energy carries through to “Is It Like That,” a through-and-through pop anthem that also serves as a self-possessed rejoinder to the often reductive experience of dating in a world obsessed with first impressions. Fiery and independent, Hayes weaves interesting melodic contours, brass compliment, and, of course, her fervid vocals. This is contrasted with “I Don’t Want to Love You,” a sweet song about internal conflict and the gambles we take in committing to other people in a relationship. A beautiful arrangement of guitar, piano, drums, and vocoder harmonies perfectly compliment the disposition of the song.

This snapshot of Hayes’ burgeoning creative output just leaves us wanting more and cements her status as one of Ottawa’s most notable up-and-coming artists. There’s no shortage of opportunities to catch her in action: in between her studies at Carleton University, she’s booking any number of shows, festivals, and competitions. Be sure to see Hayes performing the EP’s tracks and more great tunes tomorrow, Saturday, March 24 at Atomic Rooster from 8:30-9:30 pm. She’ll also be performing with Girls to the Front on Monday, April 16 at Irene’s Pub, and look for her at Bluesfest with her full band on Friday, July 6.

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