Recording information: Audio West, Orem, UT; Can Am, Tarzana, CA; Capitol Studios, Hollywood, CA; East West Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Effigy Studios, Detroit, MI; Grizzly Manor Studios, Park City, UT; Larrabee North Studios, Universal City, CA; Poinsettia Place, LA; Sound Pure Studios, Durham, NC; Southland Recorders, Los Angeles, CA.
Photographers: Tyler Shields; Natalie Wall.
From the jump, Skylar Grey's sophomore outing, Natural Causes, is drastically different from her debut. An authentic synthesis of her twin roles as both the singer formerly known as Holly Brook and as the co-writer of some of the biggest singles in recent memory, Natural Causes is all Grey's vision. While her first album relied on a few high-profile guests and a radio-ready sound that sounded a bit forced, her follow-up is a lush and fully formed statement that incorporates Grey's own influences and voice. From the misty intro, "Wilderness," which turns the dial to an Auto-Tuned Bon Iver frequency, to the warm acoustic strum of the KT Tunstall-meets-Radiohead "Moving Mountains," Natural Causes capitalizes on atmosphere and mood, opting to skip the scattered production of Don't Look Down and focus on earnestness and vulnerability. For those familiar with her past work, a hip-hop heart still beats on a number of tracks (she even drops a few verses). "Lemonade" bubbles to life underneath pastoral acoustic plucking, while "Off Road" swirls with distorted synths and sampled loops. Longtime mentor Eminem contributes an aggressive verse to "Kill for You" and album highlights "Real World" and "Straight Shooter" infuse an otherwise laid-back affair with energy and attitude (courtesy of the production team KIDinaKORNER). However, as strong as the beat-heavy tracks are, the last five are truly where Grey shines. As atmosphere swells and beats percolate, there's a distinct trip-hop mood that weaves its way through each song: "In My Garden" channels Esthero while "We Used to Be Bad" recalls a bit of Goldfrapp's Seventh Tree. She finishes on the appropriately titled "Closer," a sparse piano number that haunts as well as Bat for Lashes' more heartbreaking ballads. Throughout, Natural Causes is comforting and luscious, the sound of an artist coming into her own. ~ Neil Z. Yeung