EP Review: Charlie Hickey – Count The Stairs

Posted: by The Editor


Count the Stairs, the debut EP from Los Angeles singer-songwriter Charlie Hickey, is an effusive, at times over-wrought first offering. Hickey’s music feels very current, full of confessional, diaristic lyrics that feel less like songwriting and more like Hickey has set stories to downcast guitar licks. He doesn’t stray from this mode much on Count the Stairs, and any sonic variance is only thanks to the occasional addition of synths, strings, or vocal effects. The core, though, remains a sentimental skeleton. 

If you’re familiar with Hickey at all, it’s likely because of news stories surrounding Phoebe Bridgers’ feature on “Ten Feet Tall.” While he isn’t on her Saddest Factory label, he has certainly become the latest property within the Phoebe Bridgers Cinematic Universe. It’s not just her co-sign of Hickey that makes the two feel inextricably tied. His music sounds frighteningly similar to hers. There’s no other artist who jumps out more as an obvious influence on songs like “Seeing Things” or “Two Haunted Houses.” “Yesterday I said your name three times in the mirror / but nothing happened” is not only writing that would feel at home on Stranger in the Alps, but even the way it’s delivered echoes Bridgers. This is not a value judgment by any means, many artists are creating music under the melancholy influence of Bridgers, and for listeners like myself, that is maybe a good thing. However, it is impossible to listen to Stairs and not think about this. 


Hickey spends the record walking a tightrope, constantly at risk of falling off into mushy, saccharine territory. When he toes the line perfectly, on songs like “Seeing Things” the results are excellent. “Seeing Things” is a pretty, acoustic guitar-based track about loss, and feels like an understated standout track. On “Count the Stairs” Hickey’s writing feels more abstract, full of violent imagery and anecdotes that paint an obscure picture. His doubled vocals make him sound more powerful in a song that’s intensely vulnerable. There are moments when Hickey pushes the sad music too far, and the whole thing falls apart. The closing track “Notre Dame” is hokey and features one of the weakest lines on the record; “Just like Jane Birkin / but you look like a kid.” The song is a piano ballad, and perhaps it is the weepy keys that make the song feel cloying. It’s not helped in any way by the airy vocal effect applied to Hickey’s voice. 

Count the Stairs may not be breaking any new ground, but it’s certainly prime to take off with fans of sad, acoustic indie rock. Hickey clearly knows what he wants to sound like and has achieved that sound to a dizzying degree. One hopes that he doesn’t end up pigeonholing himself into one hyper-specific sound, but there’s plenty of time to experiment later. For a debut EP, you could certainly do worse. 

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great /Phenomenal

Eric Bennett | @seething_coast

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