19 year old singer-songwriter Leah Dou‘s latest album “Stone Café” has had quite the buildup to release, with five singles and now it’s finally out in full, in all it’s sad, sexy glory. Beautiful instrumentation, great vocal performances and warm production are the name of the day, and it’s definitely a standout in the C-Pop field this year.
Dou bandies with the melancholy on a lot of these tracks- but never really manages to hit those deep emotional depths that she seems to be going for. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing- it makes up for it with a lot of dark playfulness throughout- particularly in moments such as the steamy “Bitter Sweet” where she croons over a wonderfully sexy beat. It’s seductive and dangerous, as is later track, the jazzy “Drive“. “Lola” shows Dou’s absolute mastery of subtlety, with such smooth chord progressions you barely notice them happening. It’s truly a hypnotic and relaxing experience and the dirty synth in the latter half is just the icing on the cake. The hardest hitting track on the album, the aptly named “Explosions“, is just outright neat to listen to, and you will find yourself nodding along to the beat naturally.
Leah Dou’s album, as great as it is, stops just short of being amazing– with the latter half being bogged down with more filler like tracks (“River Run” tries to hit the heights of “Bitter Sweet” but comes off like a pale shadow) and dull ballads (“May Rain“, while pretty, feels uncomfortably lighthearted in the murk, “Chimes” feels phoned in). The closing track “Blue Flamingo” by itself is a delightfully jazzy ditty, but feels like a fizzle rather than a bang in the scheme of the album.
It also suffers from sounding slightly dated at times, unintentionally or not.The production style evokes 90s trip-hop, which unfortunately doesn’t work 100% of the time here. Sometimes things get a little muddy and confused and instruments mush and melt into one another. However, none of these nitpicks are enough to ruin the experience as a whole.
Dou will always live under the shadow of her parents (legendary singer songwriter Dou Wei and even more legendary pop diva Faye Wong), but Stone Café really is quite the entertaining experience- Dou has truly made a name for herself here in her own right. It’s very exciting to see such a beautiful release come out of the Chinese pop scene this year, and the fact that its entirely in English will make it even more approachable for the international audience. I’m sure more than a few people will receive this album warmly. Sure it has it’s imperfections, but it’s certainly an album that everyone should give at least a serious spin to.
7/10– Leah Dou’s latest album is a sexy, sultry listen that only just misses the mark from being something amazing.