Ryn Weaver's first single hit a nerve. When "Octahate" was uploaded to Soundcloud on June 21, 2014, it cut like glass — sharp, glistening, and full of a rage only embodied in epic break-ups. Four days later it had hit number one on the Billboard Emerging Artists chart.
Ryn Weaver, born Erin Wüthrich, came out of nowhere. The twenty two year old pop star grew up in California, dropped out of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, and came to befriend Benny Blanco, one of the best songwriters and producers in the industry. Blanco has built careers quickly. By teaming up with the Swedish producers who dominate the business (Max Martin, Dr. Luke) Blanco helped build Kesha into a titan, and transform Katy Perry into a number one machine.
Together, Blanco, Weaver, and the producer Cashmere Cat created "Octahate," the song that kicked off what seems to be a very promising career.
Co-written by Charli XCX, "Octahate" arrived last summer like a jolt of caffeine. 1989 hadn't dropped yet and the pop scene had a dearth of original-sounding material. Hell, "Fancy" was on the radio, and here was this thrumming electro-pop banger filled with anger and remorse and memory.
"Octahate" was the only pop song in 2014 I never got sick of. There's something undeniably groovy about it. Weaver hits high notes at surprising times; the bubbling clicking production rises and falls strategically. What makes "Octahate" such a great single is how varied it is. It goes from silence to pounding in seconds. The verses speak of sadness but the chorus reeks of fury. In an industry where every song is built and every star constructed, Octahate felt genuine and new.
But there's not another single like "Octahate" on Weaver's debut album. The Fool, released yesterday, has none of the energy, power, of dynamism that garnered "Octahate" millions of listens in 2014. Instead, Weaver loses herself between two genres.
The foot-stomping "Pierre," the third track on the album, has some of the same high notes and flickering melodies heard in "Octahate," but it's missing the raw emotion. Instead it has a folk-y, Mumford & Sons-esque sound that places Weaver's sparkling, warble of a voice into a lower range and strips of her of some of her dynamism. In Traveling Song, Weaver goes a capella in an almost spoken word story about an adventure. It's a weird little 30 seconds that makes "Traveling Song" full-folk.
Weaver has said that this is a breakup album, but it doesn't always feel that way. Songs like "Stay Low" shimmer but they don't burn brightly. Ultimately, the album sounds too much like everything else. Weaver, at times, sounds more like Florence Welch or Imogen Heap than herself.
This album isn't bad — it's just trying to do too many things. Melodic slow songs. Jamming pop hits. Foot-stomping folk-inspired songs, and almost straight electro-pop rhythms. Weaver sings in her high range, and in a high alto.
The closest she comes to the power and interest of "Octahate" is on the album's title track and second single, "The Fool."
"I tend to stack the deck with wild cards," Weaver sings, "You're betting all you got on a broken heart." Here, she gets to use her highest range and create a song with breadth and interest. The verses sit comfortably in-between the folk work of "Pierre" and the shimmering electro-pop of "Octahate."
"I think the new frontier of music is taking from whatever you fancy and kind of creating this bespoke sort of genre that’s just you," Weaver told The New York Times.
She might be right. What made "Octahate" such a strong single is that it didn't fit neatly into a single sound of the moment, but when Weaver pushes those boundaries a little too far she doesn't end up with a genre that's "just her." Instead, she creates a sense of confusion and self-consciousness.
"Stay Low" had a kind of swagger to it, but Weaver's not edgy like Lorde or Banks. In many ways, she's most similar to America's most controversial pop star, Lana Del Rey. Even her hair is almost identical.
The reason Lana Del Rey — whose album Ultraviolence was released last summer around the time Weaver was working on her own debut — succeeded, though, is that she built a seamlessly-constructed identity. Listeners criticize Lana Del Rey for playing the system and being a fake because she transformed so fully to become a star.
Lana Del Rey has a brand built of stainless steel: She's a sad girl. Weaver cannot say the same — she didn't commit to anything on this album. She's angry. She's soulful. She's folksy. She's almost unrecognizeable from song to song, and unlike some of her contemporaries like Lorde, she just couldn't produce an album at as high of the quality as her lead single.
But that doesn't mean we should count Weaver out. The longer I listened to The Fool, the more it grew on me. Like she did on "Octahate," Weaver is trying to branch out from the standards we hold for pop music — she just hasn't figured out exactly how to do that yet.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.