Toronto singer Chloe Charles boldly reinvents herself as ECHLO

Echolocation, the R&B/soul artist's first album under her new name, unleashes the full range of her voice and style

Rating: NNN

It’s difficult to talk about ECHLO and her debut Echolocation without discussing Chloe Charles. It’s not just because ECHLO is the “alias side project” of Charles, but because in many ways it’s a response to Charles’s experience making music over the past eight years.

In 2016, the Toronto singer/songwriter released With Blindfolds On. It was raw and moving, heartbreaking and revelatory. It revealed her power as an artist and storyteller, but it did little to catapult her towards the larger audience that some feel is overdue for her. So after years of making affecting yet not widely heard albums, it’s no surprise that she’s decided to shed the past, take new risks and reinvent herself.  

Described as “the echo of Chloe Charles’s past,” ECHLO replaces the narratives about her oft-mentioned famous familial connections with her own experience as “a Black female in Toronto’s music scene fighting to be heard.” Her pared-back, guitar-forward sound has transformed into cool, pop-driven electro beats. She’s bolder and louder, unleashing the full range of her voice and style, which shifts from orchestral pop to R&B and jazz, colouring tracks in fresh ways that Charles never did before, or never gave herself permission to do.  

The ominous, tentatively paced Warn You, a track about her inability to commit, sounds like she’s pouring herself into the song like melted candle wax. Sittin’ Tight is a rom-com pop ballad about the delicious longing aroused by crushes. In the breathtaking Head High, she sings with such urgency it borders on panic. But the highlight is the glittery, jazz-fused Got Me Drinking. As she sings “we met back then on Tinder / You loved me in December / Swept me off my feet,” she sounds warm and glamourous.

The genre-blurring isn’t always so successful. Want It, a manifesto against corruption and greed offers little new to the “my generation will not surrender” pop anthem genre, and leans a bit too heavily on haunting vocals. Opener Beautifully Cruel is a similar, though slightly more successful gothic ballad about the double-edged splendour and harshness of being an artist that feels sonically out of step with the rest of the album.

Interestingly enough, right when it sounds as if ECHLO has successfully replaced Charles, I Can’t Bear To See You Cry evokes the intimate, melancholy that wafts through all her music. ECHLO might be the best path to introducing new ears to Chloe Charles. 

Top track: Got Me Drinking

ECHLO plays Super Wonder Gallery on December 14.

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