Michel Comte

The Rare Depth of LP’s ‘Muddy Waters’

An underappreciated singer showcases her emotional range

Like too many other adventurous and inventive female artists, L.A.-based singer-songwriter LP has spent a long time knocking around an industry that doesn’t quite have a place for her. A brash vocalist with a rocker’s heart, an unconstrained power, and a fearlessness about letting it all loose, she has experienced success in flashes since her indie label debut in 2001.

After a 2006 performance at SXSW, a bidding war broke out and she landed at Island Def Jam with L.A. Reid, but the pairing proved awkward. It was like "taking a little tomboy and putting her in a fucking dress," she said in a 2008 interview with The Advocate. "All of a sudden it's like, ‘You're going to go in the rock direction, [then] you're going to go in the pop direction — maybe you should go with R&B.’” She and the label parted ways after one year, but not before she had written some 65 songs, aiding in her transition from pure performer into studio songwriter. LP has since has penned tracks for Backstreet Boys, Rita Ora, Christina Aguilera, Heidi Montag, and, most famously, Rihanna.

Most people first heard LP's own voice when her track “Into the Wild” was licensed for a Citibank commercial in 2012. The song later appeared on her 2014 full-length Forever For Now, helmed by producer Rob Cavallo (known for his work with Green Day and My Chemical Romance). While that album traded heavily on LP’s stadium-sized, belted proclamations of love and heartache, her new EP, Death Valley, finds her retreating into something more intimate. On the standout track, “Muddy Waters,” she plays with the juxtaposition between power and vulnerability. The song’s loping rhythm forces it to do battle against its own constraints. Over an insistent work-song foundation, her voice turns from needy and ethereal to defiant.

LP has shown herself to be uniquely equipped to deliver searing pop songs on dark and modern backgrounds. In an industry that struggles to find meaning even as it perfects commerce, her music has a depth of feeling that is rare.