In the ever-expanding, increasingly vapid void of modern indie-pop, K.Flay’s presence has always been one that’s baffled to no end. That’s hardly a revelatory statement when talking about this brand of alternative-but-not-at-all music, but between being pegged as both an indie-hip-hop wunderkind and a crossover star in the making, neither has really amounted to much beyond another artist occupying a space that really could be given to someone better. After all, K.Flay has never really made good music, often simply defaulting to the unwaveringly cool brand of hipster-pop that will always perk up the ears of mainstream critics and alternative radio programmers, but feels like the generally empty and underwhelming counterpoint to the sound it’s supposed to be bucking against. It’s not like there’s much hope that Solutions will be any different either; music in this vein has only seen even more ubiquitous success, and when that’s running in tandem with the expansion of K.Flay as an artist, that feels like a potential turning point into something truly insufferable.
Thankfully, that isn’t quite the case, but Solutions still feels like a prime example of an artist exhibiting the sort of complacency that comes from a scene formed on that exact notion. For the big, populist statement of intent that this album is undoubtedly meant to be, K.Flay’s manner of execution is one that looks to tick off all the right boxes rather than continue a cogent artistic growth in a way that’s similar to a frankly startling number of her peers and contemporaries. It leads to an album that certainly has its moments and does occasionally stumble across an idea that can blossom into a solid pop song, but between misguided, misaligned or simply poor decisions that should really be best avoided this late in the game, Solutions effectively dissipates the moment it’s done.
It’s not even like the standouts feel fluked either, because K.Flay is clearly deviating from the alt-pop norm with them in a way that actively avoids features that feel too overdone or have proven unworkable in other genre contexts. The most notable example is easily This Baby Don’t Cry, which has really only appreciated in value thanks to its fat bassline and smouldering, propulsive groove, but there’s at least a bit of likability in the scratchier guitar and bubbling bounce of Sister that feels like possibly the clearest alt-pop synthesis overall. In general though, it’s hard to divorce even good ideas on Solutions away from a template that’s become so rinsed and flavourless lately, especially when K.Flay seems to try her hardest to walk into them whenever possible. For one, she’s a particularly notable proponent of the clipped, baby-voiced vocal style that’s become such a grating affectation in modern pop, and pushing it to its more saccharine, shallow extremes on Good News and Only The Dark only comes across as more annoying than anything. Factor in that she doesn’t have a particularly strong or ranged voice either way, and it’s just one of the ways that this album can feel horrendously paced, falling about into lumbering tones that lack crucial saving graces.
They certainly aren’t present most of the time, and while it’s tempting to give K.Flay some credit for actually making her guitars audible and not drowning them out in a fluffy pop void, it’s not like that does much to elevate this beyond the alt-pop veneer that feels consistently surface-level in its embrace of the style. Bad Vibes and Not In California clearly have Halsey in eyeline in both their clanking, overweight progressions and generally lackluster attempts at fixation on themes and semantic imagery that burrows deep into the ‘relatable’ millennial mindset, while I Like Myself (Most Of The Time) and Ice Cream just sound incredibly awkward with their grinding synths and guitars that don’t sound ramshackle in any charming or workable way. But on the whole, none of this stands out all the much, even in a negative sense, as K.Flay’s general sense of composition basically boils down to the exact same formula as so many others in her scene that have seen just as little sonic success with it. Even the writing barely ever rises above basic modern platitudes of hard times and rising above them that never really amount to much, save for the closer DNA that actually has a bit of poignancy in K.Flay’s address of her relationship with her father. It’s too little, too late, ultimately, but it’s a situation where it’s easier to take what you can get.
It’s not like Solutions on the whole offers anything more anyway, another piece of fodder for the indie-pop pile that might be marginally more tolerable than the really low-hanging fruit, but only in a way that has being forgettable over outright bad. And to set it straight, there’s enough here on the whole to stop this from being a bad album, but when that doesn’t cross over to anything that’s particularly good either, it leaves Solutions hanging in a dead zone that really accomplishes nothing. It’s not like that’s all that new for K.Flay, mind, but when the possibility of any sort of evolution or progression just seems to have been ignored pretty much across the board, it’s worth questioning what the point in any of this even is.
For fans of: Halsey, Hey Violet, grandson
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Solutions’ by K.Flay is out now on Interscope Records.