“Endless hope for the future,” Lou Roy sings while rubbing two mini Snickers bars together, surrounded by friends, on her song “Big Anvil.” And Roy’s music does sound like hope for the future—after a disappointing experience with the music industry when she signed to a Sony imprint under the moniker Huxlee, the 29-year-old singer from Topanga Canyon, outside of LA, is captaining a hot air balloon that only goes up. Her full-length debut, Pure Chaos, is out today on Balloon Machine.
Roy worked with Illuminati Hotties’ Sarah Tudzin to co-produce the record, which ended up in a different direction than her previous work as Huxlee. “I’d been approaching songwriting in a fear and shame and guilt-based way, that’s like, if every line is not awesome and perfect, then I’m a piece of shit and it’s not worth approaching,” Roy told Mia Hughes in the album’s biography. “And so I got a little free-er with everything, and let myself do stuff that was ‘bad’.”
Roy roams through the many facets of her alt-pop/indie-folk genre, sometimes sounding like Fiona Apple, sometimes like Haim, sometimes referencing the various iterations of Bon Iver, with a penchant for irreverent percussion and a smooth Maggie-Rogers-come-Natalie-Prass voice.
Bass/saxophone duo Sam Wilkes and Sam Gendel (perhaps familiar to readers through Gendel’s reimagining of Vampire Weekend’s “2021” on their 40:42 EP) appear on Roy’s album, as well as Kyle Crane on drums, Eric Radloff on guitars/synths, and composer Ryan Reeson contributing string arrangements.
Roy’s eclectic pop sound is probably what made her longtime friends in MUNA suddenly realize she was the perfect opener for them. In what she termed an “absolutely wild turn of events,” Roy opened for some of MUNA’s winter 2022 tour dates on short notice.
The best single from Pure Chaos is “Uppercut,” an absolutely irresistible pop banger that acts as a summary for the record. In it, Roy talks about being thankful for late-night hangs with friends and for her dog (“Nothing like the dog in the morning / His fat face on my shoulder / I always dreamed of this moment, always”) and about overcoming trauma from a decade-old sexual assault. In a danceably triumphant chorus that sums up the feeling of surmounting difficulties to get to the good place you are now, she sings, “And when the record starts / I get real tough / It’s a jab – cross – hook – hook – uppercut!”
Roy is at her best on the record when she sings about relationships, especially as they relate to where she is in life. “One day I’m gonna take that girl to dinner / One day I’ll get the band back together / No shade, no shade, just a good vibe,” she sings on “Big Anvil.”
“If We Were Strangers,” about Roy’s relationship with her mom, also paints a relatable portrait of relating to your parents as an adult. It hits on the extremely complicated dynamic of admitting “if we were strangers, if we met we’d get along”—you sing along together to albums you both love, like the same drinks and have the same habits—but also giving yourself space to be angry with your parents for things they’ve done that hurt you.
Roy uses impressionistic but relatable terms, somehow gently differentiating herself from the wave of droll, hyper-detailed songwriting Phoebe Bridgers has popularized. “Nothing better than a late night Fred’s / With Mads, Sarah, Brian, and Ren / French fry and laugh riot / Man these guys just totally fuckin’ shred,” she sings on “Uppercut,” perfectly conjuring up a scene from an A24 movie trailer and all the associated emotions without worrying about being poetic or clever.
Pure Chaos is, all in all, quite chaotic—unusual song structures, a whirlwind of genres, and short songs about stuff like staring at your phone all day (“Scroll”) interspersed between new classics like “U.D.I.D,” “Valkyrie,” and “Down Since ‘07.” The entire 10-track record clocks in under 25 minutes. But in the middle of it all, you can hear a star being born.
Pure Chaos is out now.