When someone has been studying music since they were four years old they're usually worth watching, and that's definitely true of Buel. This twenty-something rising indie pop star has started making waves for her husky, emotive voice and creatively eclectic musical influences. Fans of 90s grunge and singer-songwriters should particularly take notice.
Buel's first major single, I Killed Something from 2017 follows a very standard singer-songwriter format, consisting of little more than guitar, drums, and her crooning voice. While her sound has expanded since then, the oblique self-written lyrics have become a staple of Buel's style. It suggests loneliness and longing, but with no clear story. With experience as a poet as well as a songwriter, she's clearly comfortable with ambiguity; no surprise from someone who cites Nirvana as a major influence.
Since then she has embraced electronics, specifically somewhat spacey synthesizers, a bit like if Lana Del Rey fronted for Air. This new style works well with her mysterious tone, giving her works a somewhat dreamy quality that helps her stand out from other throaty female singers like Billie Eilish. Her previous single, Lemon Smile from 2020, utilizes synthetic plucked strings and airy production with a slightly uplifting vibe, in contrast to the very angry lyrics attacking hypocrisy in the people around her. Although, again, who exactly is under fire is somewhat up to interpretation.
Now, Buel has returned to her roots after a fashion, with a modernized cover of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. It takes guts to tackle such an iconic song, especially given how closely it's associated with the band and its tragic lead. However, she fearlessly takes it in a new direction, replacing the grunge with retro electronics, and providing a more melodic take on the tune. The pitch-bending Theramin and warbling synths replacing the original guitar opening gives it an off-kilter feel, fitting the tone of the song well.
Buel's first full EP is scheduled to come out later in 2021. Based on her body of work thus far, it could be just the thing to bring her into wider awareness. We'll be looking forward to seeing what she does.