Recorded in a bedroom, Winnie's alt-pop album 'Act I' is a testament not only to her singing ability, but to the talents of her producers.
There’s a pretty simple reason why you don’t often see many unsigned or independent pop artists: pop music is hard. A lot harder than some majority of musicians give it credit for, surely. And that really sums up what makes Act I, the latest album from Binghamton alt-pop artist Winnie, a very special entry.
Winnie’s incomparable vocal style and personal, relatable lyrics mesh together fluidly with the album’s top-flight musical score. And it’s all mixed and mastered exceptionally well, too. Especially given that Act I was tracked with a DAW in a bedroom … not in a professional recording studio.
Act I is a pop album that genuinely shines in a genre where millions of dollars are often spent producing works of its caliber. And that venerable indie production helps give Winnie’s album something a lot of big-name pop stars will never have: authenticity. A hunger for success rather than the expectation of it. That’s not something you can buy and it’s not something you can fake. And it’s something Winnie and her small team of producers dish up in droves.
Act I: Creative hunger and genuine personality are rare pop album traits
That last point about authenticity is an important one. There are a lot of debatable excuses people have for not liking pop music, but the genre’s lack of authenticity and personality are often pretty legitimate.
It’s difficult to achieve that authenticity when every single note and every word of the lyrics are abusively scrutinized and analyzed by legal and marketing executives. And it doesn’t help when the music is overzealously over-produced and autotuned to “perfection”, either.
There aren’t many significant creative risks in modern pop. Even a simple voice crack comes across as something culled from a clipboard checkbox and rehearsed ad nauseam. And it’s difficult to take you seriously as an artist after your entire personality gets whittled down into a branding asset. At some point, you stop being a human musician and transform into a tangible product.
As an indie artist, Winnie doesn’t have an entourage of agents, PR managers, stylists, social media managers, and “yes” people. And that is, as far as her music is concerned, an overwhelmingly good thing. Because Winnie’s music comes across as authentic. Relatable, personal … human.
Act I is a collection of Winnie’s personal stories, told by her exclusively and in her own voice. It’s real, it’s raw, it’s unfiltered. And that’s all beautiful to hear in a genre where words like “real” and “raw” and “unfiltered” equate to empty marketing slogans yanked from some keyword spreadsheet.
Winnie’s singing impresses across the board
In pop music, the vocal performance is the keystone holding all of the other pieces together. Rock vocals can afford to be messy and rough around the edges. But pop vocals need to be flawless. It’s a genre that rewards technical skill, range, power, and finesse. And Winnie checks these off the wishlist impressively.
Winnie’s singing can shift from gentle, polite flutters to powerful energetic bursts quickly and without scraping the proverbial walls. At no point does she come across as flat, wobbly, or otherwise amateur. And there’s a real grit to her voice, too, as cleverly masked as it might be. If Winnie woke up tomorrow morning and decided to transition to grungy alt-rock, she’d be ready by brunch. And given her creative flexibility on Act I, and her at times playful, lighthearted attitude, I wouldn’t be surprised if she did just that.
Winnie is a singer with the rare ability to appreciate her own strengths and weaknesses and avoid the latter. At no point is she pushing herself outside of her vocal range. She sticks to her comfort zone in those cases where some singers might try to go harder than they can.
There’s really only one almost-a-bad-thing negative I can list here. There are a small handful of moments where Winnie wades dangerously close to that frustrating baby-speak that’s been permeating mainstream pop for quite some time now. She does avoid it, but there’s just enough of a hint of it there to let you peek at a few of her influences. Thankfully though, that’s as deep as it goes.
Act I’s scoring and mixdown are applaudable, too
The musical accompaniment on Winnie’s Act I is as creative as it is clever. Producers Brittany Rose, Zach Shearer, and Brenna Swanger helped Winnie develop a surprisingly fresh and original album. The music is danceable when it needs to be, and beautifully captures the mood of each song.
All Your Friends Are Dead and Scorched Earth really stand out as brilliantly performed, with excellent musical scoring and masterful mixing.
The compositions are mostly modern and fresh EDM-centric tracks designed from head to toe to get your feet moving. And there are some clever uses of guitar, ukelele, key stabs, and more sprinkled in where appropriate, too.
The weakest musical link is found in the album’s opening song, Attention. This track has a late 90s/ early Aughts club vibe, with just enough modern appointments to keep it from sounding too dated. On an album with so much creativity everywhere else, this one track seems to under-deliver a bit. It’s maybe a little too standardized in a space where everything else tries to avoid pop tropes. But Winnie’s singing on the track more than makes up for this one shortcoming.
The music accompanying the songs All Your Friends Are Dead, Helium Heart, Scorched Earth, and Black Widows are a whole other story. A lot of love and care went into these songs in particular. All Your Friends Are Dead and Scorched Earth really stand out as brilliant, with excellent scoring and masterful mixing.
The mixdown and mastering on Act I are impressive, too, making great use of the stereo field. It’s a rare thing for indie artists of any genre to make my fancy “prosumer”-grade Bose headphones earn their keep. They most certainly did that while reviewing Act I.
Will Winnie’s latest album be a hard act to follow?
Winnie describes Act I as the first album in a multi-part project she’s been working on. And that means I’m excited to review Act II at some point as well. I’m particularly interested to see if this next album will build on these expressive foundations, or if she’ll take her sound in some radical new direction. Either way, if the quality of Act I is any indicator, I’m sure her growing fanbase will adore whatever comes next.
Saying this album by Winnie will be a hard act to follow feels a little on the nose, given the album is literally called Act I. But Winnie and her producers pulled off an incredibly challenging feat here. They produced a high-quality pop album on what I can only assume was a shoestring budget, recording brilliant vocal tracks in a bedroom. Anyone with any recording experience will be quick to tell you that’s not an easy thing to pull off. And pull that off they most certainly did.
It might be a while before we see the release of Act II—recording an album is a major undertaking. But in the meantime, you can check out Winnie’s BioSite page here. And don’t forget to give her music a listen on Spotify and Apple Music, too.
Oh, and don’t let the high production values of Winnie’s Act I fool you. Winnie is very much a local Binghamton artist. Go buy some of her merch and support her music, please and thank you!