Album Review: Ella Ross — ‘Is Anyone Listening?’

Posted: by The Editor

A little over a year ago, rising indie-pop singer Ella Ross dazzled the scene with the release of her debut EP, Wasted Youth. A record that instantly gave her standing, as its breezy tones and piercing vocals needed no incubation period to prove it’s worth. Yet, with the drop of her sophomore EP, a work in progress since she was 19 years old, the sunny disposition that was cast over her debut has been clouded with darker horizons. Is Anyone Listening? revels in its melancholic, upbeat pop while it probes the deeper conscious of Ross’ mind. It doesn’t just scratch the surface, it plunges itself straight in, providing an exfoliation to all that we thought we knew about Ella Ross through her prior work.

Opening with burner, “Talking/Listening,” the song instantly gives insight to the direction of the rest of the six-track EP. Unlike the light and playful tones that were scattered throughout Wasted Youth, the blossoming of the record steps further into darker and grittier territory. Ross pushes the piercing vulnerability of her vocals to new heights here, as she recalls a bitter end to a relationship. The tragic pit in a couple’s belly as they both realize the relationship can’t be mended is played out overtop her alluring siren-like falsetto. “Same Clothes” follows, bouncing back to the nostalgia of Ross’ debut with it’s warmer undertones. Being the only track that keeps it’s glow, it is a nice refresher from the otherwise harder subject matter surrounding it on the project. It’s light and languid, and it gives just enough sticky-sweet synths to recall. 

Break-out single, “Monster,” pushes boundaries as it rumbles an echoed sentiment about the darker side of the music industry. Ross has explained this track documents the emotions that ruptured inside of her as she explored the relationship with someone she considered a mentor in her career who, seemingly, wasn’t. In essence, through her piercing vocals that read like an auditory diary and lyrics like “You don’t say how you feel. You say what they want,” the track symbolizes how the industry can fuck you over. 

But, it’s the closer of Is Anyone Listening? that captivates the most attention. Superficially dissected as a narrative about a relationship souring, “Strangers” actually retraces the steps of Ross’ experience with adoption. Being adopted and being a stranger in the world to someone that you also have such a personal connection with is set between a haunting sonic-landscape and her isolated vocals. The listener feels as though they are being taken by the hand of Ross, herself, as she uncovers her story with utmost fragility. The impact hits harder alongside the music video which shows her, dressed in all white, wandering the forest, all alone with shadow figures following her every move. It’s with her statement, “If one day you answer, you might be confused / Cause’ I’m just a stranger who looks like you” that really pulls at your heartstrings long after the record has ended. 

Is Anyone Listening? has made a long journey to production. With it being a record that’s been written since she was 19, all the soul that’s been bubbling inside Ross since then fizzes all over its thematic relationship. Incorporating stories about coming of age, different types of relationships, and her own personal growth and vulnerability, the project only further solidifies her place within the indie-pop scene. Is anyone listening? After this release, everyone should be.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Hope Ankley / @Hope_ankleknee

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