Griff’s debut is a bit hit-or-miss, but still marks her as an artist to keep an eye on.
One Foot in Front of the Other is the first mixtape from Griff, a singer-songwriter-producer who won this year’s Brit Award for Rising Star. It’s a low-key mixtape, both because it runs only seven tracks and because the production eschews big pop choruses for a constant, bouncing pulse. Even the lead single, “Black Hole,” doesn’t so much explode into its hook as it slides smoothly in with a wink (it’s not the best song on the record, but it has by far the best hook). Sometimes this production, minimalist and percussive, works to Griff’s advantage, and sometimes it holds her back: for example, the beat of “Black Hole” is a little too perfectly serviceable to impress. “One Foot in Front of the Other” and “Earl Grey Tea” (the muddled requisite ballad) also feel like they’re missing an extra instrumental layer—and/or an extra dash of narrative urgency—that they would need to fully complement the writing and performance. Subtlety in pop can be even more exciting than maximalism, but pulling it off is much harder. There are no bad songs on One Foot, but because it relies on a handful of traditional pop sounds and uses them so sparingly, the music sometimes ends up sounding forgettable.
Griff’s voice is consistently the best part of every track. She sings in the same desperately expressive mold as many indie pop girls before her (try Fletcher’s 2020 EP The Sex Tapes for something similar), and One Foot’s best songs come when the production catches up to her writing style. Standout track “Shade of Yellow” swoons about finding comfort in the small details of everyday life: “There’s a light in your room / And the lamp is a shade of yellow / And it makes me feel safe and sound / And I swear that’s rare these days.” The warm mid-tempo pulse of the production perfectly matches the lyrical themes of comfort and privacy, and the melody of “Yellow” is agile enough that the instrumental takes a backseat, supporting Griff’s captivating vocals. “Heart of Gold,” another highlight, draws out all the mixtape’s best aspects of its percussive focus using a rapid-fire chorus melody. Like the music, Griff’s writing yields mixed results: some of it’s smartly composed and some only serviceable, but the standouts make a strong argument in favor of her ear for vocal delivery.
“Walk” is the project’s best pop song, with the same secure yet thrilling feel as the poppiest of Haim singles (overlay it onto the video for “Want You Back” and you might have something). It’s also the track that best navigates the minimalism of One Foot’s production and turns it into something exciting and dynamic, playing the vocals and instrumental off each other while finding moments for both to shine. The most important takeaway from the mixtape as a whole, though, is that Griff has writing credits on all seven tracks, production credits on six, and sole credits for both on four (“One Foot,” “Shade of Yellow,” “Heart of Gold,” and “Earl Grey Tea”). Pop music is sorely in need of more female producers, and it’s great to see a young female artist take charge of her sound this way from the start of her career. As a standalone pop release, One Foot in Front of the Other has some hits and some misses, but as a career-establishing project, it shows a lot of promise.
Published as part of Album Roundup — June 2021 | Part 4.