At just 18, Cypriot-Australian singer-songwriter Stevie Jean is already remarkably well on her way to a solid music career with the release of her debut EP Blame Game. Consisting of just five songs, the EP has just enough in it to get you interested in hearing more of what she has to say. Stevie Jean describes this collection of songs as stories inspired by her high school experience, during that painful and uncomfortable changeover from childhood innocence to adult weariness. In this way, it’s easy to draw comparisons to that precocious global neighbor of Stevie’s, Lorde. Of course, the wild dark hair and surprisingly weather-beaten vocals also do the trick, but in Stevie Jean, there’s a little less of the pop sheen and a little more of the grit, frankness and self-aware humor that could be found in early Liz Phair. In a similar way, Stevie Jean is not afraid to be blunt about her desires, or her uglier emotions.
A perfect example of this is the opening track, “December Song.” Stevie Jean describes it herself as “petty and triumphant,” and it is exactly that, delightfully so. Jean sings about a friend who rejected her but still wants her when she’s drunk and sad. Jean taunts that “you don’t know what I could do, but I bet you want to,” just toeing the line between subtlety and suggestion. The climax of the song raises controlled chaos, which Jean’s voice manages to rise above before releasing what might be called a throaty yawp at the close, leaving you (and her subject) with something to remember her by.
“Mockingbird” shows a slightly softer side to the artist, as she explores a tumultuous relationship, and although this song is slightly less rich than “December Song,” lyrics-wise, it’s relatively simple hook gives Jean a chance to display some of her vocal power and range. “Estranged,” while exploring similarly troubled territory is the best example of the musical heaviness Stevie Jean is often paired with during the most cathartic moments on this EP. Australia is abnormally good at guitar rock right now, and Blame Game certainly sustains that reputation. Fortunately, just as that heaviness becomes overwhelming, “I Like You” arrives and takes us in a new direction from the previous tracks.
“I Like You” is possibly the most dynamic song on the album or nearly as much as “December Song.” It creeps in with a subtle, slightly ominous beat that underlines Jean’s narrative of falling into someone’s overwhelming orbit. As the emotional tensions rise, so does the musical complexity and Jean’s vocal intensity. It’s one of the standout tracks here because it allows you to sink into the singer’s emotional headspace, and to rise into catharsis with her.
The closer, Stevie Jean’s breakout single, “Hell in Every Religion” brings us back around to the main attraction of this EP: Jean’s voice. Besides having a literal voice that is strong and emotive, Jean has things to say and stories to relate and there isn’t a trace of hesitation or play-acting, or even annoying precociousness in it. That’s especially admirable in someone so young, who is nevertheless still developing as an artist. With her first EP, it’s easy to see how Stevie Jean could easily progress to greater highs in the future. As long as she stays true to her mind and heart, her songs will retain a fresh, intimate quality that you can’t find just anywhere.