"Wasted Energy" by Abz WinterReview
June 23rd will see the release of the new Abz Winter single "Wasted Energy" and with her usual kindness (and enthusiasm to let others hear material she's proud of & worked hard on) she has given "Hot Music Live" a preview.
Under these circumstances, I'm usually a bit conflicted between, on one hand, helping both you & Abz by suggesting something you'd like & supporting the artist's career & on the other spoiling the surprise you get when new music comes out. I'll try and balance these out…
You know the qualities Abz brings to the table by now & they've certainly been described often enough in these columns. I've never seen much evidence of her forsaking these attributes, the ones which so endear her to audiences & critics. However underneath the feisty character on stage, there is an equally feisty one who desires artistic career development and shuns the idea of repeating herself. No doubt the music study she's been experiencing has helped her to find new ways forwards too.
Part of being Abz, one which I hadn't picked up on too much to be honest, was that in her ambition to keep the stories in her songs real, she was initially limited by her youth & lack of experiences: hence, as she explained to me, the subjects of many of her more barbed songs were incidents which had happened to her friends rather than herself (and I'd be the first person to say how much there is value in artists writing "in character"). Of late, her life seems to be accumulating the sorts of dramas which inform the high octane emotional levels of Abz Winter songs & "Wasted Energy" is explicitly an autobiographical one.
It's interesting too how that has expressed itself in this song, which like a lot of her work contains lyrics which are far from the sunny, fun loving persona which a complacent reading of the music might suggest to the more casual listener.
Co-written with Kristina Sundstrom & Imad Salhi (the latter of whom also produced it), "Wasted Energy" certainly has that characteristic Abz pop at those she disdains for whatever reason: on this occasion, it would seem, those who seem to want her to conform to their own expectations of how she leads her life.
Beyond this though, a lot of the philosophical content of the song (and it does explore philosophical themes) is directed as much inward as outward: self criticism and certainly also self doubt. Energy can be wasted by negative people around you, but it is also possibly generated by personal prevarication & lack of precise clarity not only on where she is going, but also what precisely she wants out of life.
It's this which really moves "Wasted Energy" on from earlier work: the tone remains acerbic but the targets have changed a lot and become much more generalised: most previous singles appeared to deal with specific incidents & sets of circumstances.
As I often say about the excellent local writers who excel in danceable songs with intelligent lyrics (Rheo Uno & Ivy Ash spring to mind as well as Abz): how many people really hear the words & process them with the intensity their writer might have hoped for. Who can tell? Not I for sure: part of me suspects that insufficient listeners will get all the layers of meaning, but the optimist hopes I'm wrong. Certainly the artists in question tend, in publicity, to go to the trouble of talking about their work & part of my role I think is to emphasise aspects of songs which lie just below the surface..
Musically of course Abz hit the ground running: from the start of her career she demonstrated a facility not just for effervescent accessible music but managed to conjure fresh tunes & songs out of a very packed field. Do I praise that side of her enough I my reviews? If not, at least I have here & now.
Other comments which were made of her from the off were around her remarkable vocals & her taste in using them. I have always I think made it clear that I have little time for those blessed with strong voices but who, instead of creating material of real value and meaning, instead look for showcases for their range & power. Equally, showboating & vocal acrobatics do not convey true emotions: quite the opposite. That's why I respect how Abz, from an early age had the taste to realise all this and how over the years, she has never been tempted to waver from it. And that of course includes "Wasted Energy".
In fact one of the many aspects of the song I enjoyed is how she holds back on the vocals & arrangement: this, especially given the subject matter, is a comparatively sombre Abz. Shifting dynamics in her songs has always been a strength, and she is simply getting better & better at building songs & offering contrasting passages which in turn complement her words.
Tuned into her own generation, she is not a slave to its conventions either: her music while contemporary in feel, rarely is so stuck in the sound of its recording date that it is in danger of aging over time. There is always a sense of awareness of styles from across places & times: whether a nod to early 80s pop was intended here or not, I don't know, but I seem to hear it.
Hopefully it will do as well as her last one, "Red Flags" (55,000 streams on Spotify and on 2000+ playlists to date): I think it's definitely another big step forward for Abz.