Lindsay Ell – heart theory

Stoney Creek Records / This is Hit, Inc

Release Date: August 14th 2020

Reviewed by: Joshua Andre

Lindsay Ellheart theory (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Hits me
  2. how good
  3. i don’t lovE you
  4. wAnt me back
  5. get oveR you
  6. wrong girl
  7. body language of a breakup
  8. good on you
  9. The oTHEr side
  10. gO to
  11. make you
  12. ReadY to love

‘We are living in unprecedented times’. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that phrase over the past few months. From our prime minister, from TV anchors who read the news, from talk show hosts, to celebrities and musicians on livestreams. Ever since COVID-19 hit, the world has been put on pause, literally… and it seems like life and the way we live it has now been forever changed. Social distancing (of should we say physical distancing?) is most likely and probably the new normal now, as well as the method that we all wash our hands (which we all should’ve been doing before the pandemic!). Travel restrictions are probably going to be still in place for a long while yet; while TV and movie filming would have to occur when it is safe, and then with caveats and guidelines to follow. Hanging out with many friends like a house party is probably a no-go; while Zoom calls for whatever reason will continue to increase. Yes, we are indeed living in unprecedented times. Yet it is in this time when I reckon, I have been inspired and encouraged greatly by music. Music across all genres. In times of turmoil, pain, confusion and adversity like we all are in right now, many times I’ve turned to music, and it is by the grace of God working in these songs that I have found comfort, solace, hope and the promise of a way out of the darkness.

I’ve been inspired by Matthew West’s Brand New, where he imparts to us the very truth of Jesus giving us new life and that only He is our very reason for being. I’ve been deeply encouraged by Echosmith’s Lonely Generation, where Sydney and her siblings dive deep into the real issues of life, inclusive of loneliness and our over-reliance on technology. I’ve been jamming to Tauren Wells’ Citizen Of Heaven, as I hear new pop songs for the soul- grooving and moving to some fresh and current gospel/pop tunes. While storyteller Jason Gray has dived deeper into the concept of revaluating our faith and our life, as he embarks on his most vulnerable project yet Order, Disorder, Reorder. For King & COUNTRY teamed up with pop sensation Tori Kelly and gospel icon Kirk Franklin for the smash hit crossover hit “Together”, recorded and filmed as a music video completely during quarantine, with the lyrics and theme being an anthem and encouragement to band together during crisises like COVID-19. I’ve also been greatly impacted by Aussie country sibling trio The McClymonts, and their jovial, positive brand of country/pop which was on display in full force in their album Mayhem To Madness; while Pentatonix and Switchfoot (both icons in their respective genres of acapella and rock, in their own right!) wowed us all with their cover EP’s At Home and Covers EP. More recently Chris Tomlin caught everyone by surprise by recording a worship/country album (who’d have thought?) called Chris Tomlin & Friends; with guest vocals in every song inclusive of Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, Russell Dickerson, RaeLynn, Lady A, Cassadee Pope, We The Kingdom, NEEDTOBREATHE, Chris Lane and Brett Young; while breakout worship band We The Kingdom impressed me greatly with their worship/rock debut Holy Water. And the year’s not over yet. Future albums from Brandon Lake, Natalie Grant, NEEDTOBREATHE, Lincoln Brewster, I AM THEY, Keith Urban, Matt Hammitt, Alica Keys, OneRepublic, Delta Goodrem and Guy Sebastian (to name a few!) have all been slated to release either this year or next year… and I’m excited for all of these projects!

So while COVID-19 has dampened all of our spirits in the sense that we cannot go outside to hang out with our friends, and numerous other places we normally frequent are closed or have limited capacity; music is still around to guide us through our issues, troubles and struggles. More importantly God is by our side using music to heal us and comfort us. And though this is a very long introduction, I’d say this ‘pre-amble’ is worth it for me to say and for you to read, as I’ve recently found out that as of this moment, THE album that has spoken to me the most and has given me reassurance for the future… is the concept album heart theory by Canadian singer/songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Lindsay Ell– who by no means is popular, however her reach defies logic, and her exponential influence is blooming. I’ll dive deeper into and delve more on Lindsay and how I stumbled across her music in my blog series… so onto the album review!

If theory is the science of music, then this album is the science of a heart. This album is the science of how I’ve gotten through the process. Just like an experiment gives you directions. This is what you do. Step one to step 12. This album for me is how you get through and navigate going through the tunnel, doing the work, coming out the other side is somebody who is finally ready to take control of their life.

I think we go through transformative times consistently throughout the course of our lives, whether it’s from getting out of a relationship, losing a loved one, losing a job or going through a global pandemic, we constantly go through these moments in our lives and as human beings have to feel every step of the way. I wrote a record in order from track one being stage one of shock, then through denial, anger, bargaining all the way down to stage seven at track 12 of acceptance, being able to look in the mirror and fully accept yourself for everything that you are, everything that’s happened in your life to bring you to this moment…it’s just a lot of moments have happened where I’m like, okay, I’m ready to find out that deeper layer of what being authentic to myself means right now.

I love therapy and I’ve been going to therapy for years specifically, I’ve been really digging, digging in the past couple years and I feel like I’ve still saved thousands of dollars of therapy because I wrote this record. So writing is huge therapy to me and these songs have really really helped me reach that deeper level of healing…[I hope the album] causes them to reflect on a deeper level of themselves. I feel like so often we carry all of these feelings that are so heavy and we don’t realize how much they have an effect on our everyday life. And we don’t realize how much we need to really focus on finding that true real level of who we are authentically and focusing on loving ourselves to a deeper level… If this album can, I just hope it can be heard by the ears that need to hear it, to inspire them to do so…

Having been recommended one of Lindsay’s tracks on Youtube earlier this year (coincidently while I was at home during lockdown here in Australia!), I have since never looked back and have been hooked by her infectiously catchy pop, rock and country infusion- a hybrid genre of sorts. I’ve also been presented with heavy material and hopeful themes as throughout her brief yet impactful career, it seems as if there’s nothing that is off limits to Lindsay. To tell you the truth, I shouldn’t really be the target audience of such an album like this. heart theory, as said by Lindsay in the above quote, is a concept album driven predominately by Lindsay’s break up with an ex, and her writing about the 7 stages of grief in song format. It’s technically a ‘break up’ album with almost every song being a ‘sanger’ (sad banger!)- but for me having never been in a relationship before, how is it that these songs speak to me and still resonate? Well, I reckon that it’s pretty simple. That God is still moving and is showing me that this album can be applicable in other areas of my life. And that’s the beauty and brilliance of albums like this- full of double or triple meanings so that people can apply the lessons learned to many different areas of their life. heart theory is one of my favourite albums of the entire year thus far, so let me dive deep into this 12 track emotive and heartfelt journey with Lindsay, and let you in on what God has been showing me of late.

The album opens with the Tyler Hubbard co-write “Hits me” (Tyler is one half of country duo Florida Georgia Line), as Lindsay emphatically relays to us that the shock of a change in a relationship hasn’t hit her yet, and that she’ll always be blissfully unaware and indeed happy, until the shock wears off and the change in relationship, or even the change in the way life is lived, is realised. And while I myself haven’t been in a relationship before, the notion of being ignorant and being happy is one that I can relate to- many times in my childhood I can remember life being simpler and not as complicated as now- so this song is a reminder that perhaps knowing the truth of the matter and of the world at large is a good thing, but maybe there’s good also in being happy ‘until it hits me’… because maybe we don’t want to be jaded and cynical? “how good” is a in-your-face rocker where Lindsay directly sings to her ex, wanting him to know that he never really knew how good she could have loved him, as we are met with a track that is basically confronting our issues head on and not shying away from them; while “i don’t lovE you” is another track about denial, about us all not accepting the death of a friendship or the death of a relationship or even the death of a person in this life. It’s the ever true notion that we may not love the person anymore (in a romantic or a platonic way) due to various circumstances… but that doesn’t mean that we can’t miss them or lament on what was lost. It’s the sole ‘cover’ on the album as Lindsay makes this track her own- the guitar led ballad being a tear-jerker and as emotional as any song this year.

The 3 minute poppy “wAnt me back” is probably one of the songs that I can’t personally relate to, however Lindsay’s passion and fun demeanour grips my attention, as I am introduced to a song of emotion and questioning, telling the other person who wants to go back to the relationship before that ‘…you ain’t gonna find nobody like me, I’m the best you ever had and I’m always gonna be, so if I were you, if I were you, I’d want me back too…’, somewhat agreeing with the other person and seeing from their point of view why familiarity can be a good thing. Yet this track also warns us- perhaps the easiest thing to do isn’t always the best, and this track eventually did speak to me, reminding me to always keep looking forward and pressing on, running my own race instead of looking back and side to side and wishing for what is perceived to be better on the ‘greener’ grass on the other side. Am I reading too much onto this song? Is it just meant to be a pop song and that’s it? Maybe, but I’m sure Lindsay would be proud and honoured by my interpretation of this song!

“get oveR you” is where the anger starts coming in, as Lindsay speaks to her ex, asking him to get over himself and not hope for the past. And as we all sing to our vices and addictions and the things that are toxic in our lives, telling them that we have no need for them, Lindsay subtly alludes to the fact that we all will feel freer, lighter and much more content as a result of us feeling our feelings and not bottling them down. The halfway point on the album ends with the intense yet revealing and confronting “wrong girl”, which is actually I reckon the most relatable song for all of us- haven’t we all had that flaky and unreliable ‘friend’ who takes, takes and takes, but never gives, gives and gives? Haven’t we all fell into the trap of helping a friend and then asking that same friend for help, and them bailing? Haven’t we all felt used and abused by people who we thought we trusted? Lindsay answers all of these questions and more with one of the most brutal yet satisfying tracks which basically lays a line down, and says ‘these are my boundaries, so respect them or else!’.

While the emotional country ballad “body language of a breakup” brings tears to my eyes as we hear about the early signs of a romantic relationship breakdown and breakup, however this track can also dive deep into our hearts as we analyse our own relationships- platonic or romantic- and wonder if we need to put in more work and effort to make it thrive and grow like we want it to. Nobody likes break ups, however they look like, so this warning of sorts is good to hear- it may just save your marriage or your close friendship. For that Lindsay should be proud of this effort!

One of the things lately that I’ve been actively trying to curb is the actual thief of joy- comparison, leading to the envy and jealousy of another due to whatever reason. Someone has a fancy car or a more perfect family, or in the case of myself, someone has a ‘better’ and more interesting job with better pay and a less taxing physical toll on the body. Yet as Lindsay delivers an exquisite and compelling laid back and groovy pop anthem “good on you”, we are met with someone wrestling with their comparison issues and envy, and being the bigger person and congratulating someone else on their successes. Obviously it’s hard to wish the best for someone when they’re a person who you knew but doesn’t want to acknowledge you now for whatever reason; but in some ways “good on you” is therapeutic, as Lindsay wishes the other person well. Is it sarcasm of being genuine? Not sure, but that sentiment of really meaning good for the other person is something we all need to be able to undertake- and in that way we can be better people if we truly do not compare and be jealous.

“The oTHEr side”, another track where Lindsay allows herself to be the bigger person, delves into the universal concept of finding your way out of the tunnel and out of the dark place where you’ve been for so long (it may not be a dark place, but a familiar place nonetheless), and finding that there is life and life abundant unlike what you thought. If you’re immersed in something for so long, but find yourself not happy or content or unsure of who you are, this song is for you, and a reminder that the world still keeps on turning even if you change your trajectory in life. While life is a winding twisting road where we never know what is coming next, this song reminds us that we need not be afraid of the future- as the future is unknown but beautiful, nonetheless. “gO to”, one of the poppiest songs on the album, has Lindsay emphatically singing out that she wants her significant other to think about her all the time, and that she wants to be ‘…the heaven that you wanna go to…’, reminding us all that we need to hold onto the things we want in life, else they will slip through our fingers; while album ender “ReadY to love” comes full circle and is a rocking head banger, whereby Lindsay accepts the end of her relationship, yet tentatively concludes that she is ready to feel again- love, pain, heartbreak and all the other emotions, as that is what makes us human and feelings mean that we are alive.

Yet it is the penultimate emotional and heartfelt piano ballad “make you” that really hits home for me- and hopefully for all of you as well. Even though we all probably haven’t experienced rape, the fact that Lindsay was brave and courageous to document her journey of assault by a man from her church, and then of later forgiving herself and recovering from the pain, is commendable and admirable. And as we read from Lindsay herself about the most personal song on the album (because who could say it better than Lindsay?), let us remember that even when it seems like the worst thing of all has happened, beauty can come out of the ashes, and that we can rise above our situations. It truly is the adversity and the trials that make us as people and refine us and help us grow- and it certainly has with Lindsay, as she is using her story to inspire and encourage many, and let us all know that we’re not alone. The most fitting part of the song though, is the final chorus where Lindsay’s outlook changes- and as we remember that bad situations can be shaped by God for His good and our glory… BOOM! Everything changes. Just ask Lindsay and how she has healed from this ordeal, through the song and through the Make You Movement that she founded- a charitable fund that “help[s] organizations that support at-risk youth, domestic abuse and sexual assault survivors by provided funds on an as-needed basis”

It’s gonna make you love yourself
When you don’t love yourself at all
‘Cause if you can get through that
There’s no valley that’s too tall
And all those questions you ask God
Are still gonna be there
‘Cause it’s so messed up, it’s so wrong
It’s just so unfair
And it’s amazing where a broken heart can take you
All the things that bend and stain and break you
That’s what’s gonna make you
But that’s what’s gonna make you

I decided I wanted to come forward with my story when I had gone to a place called Youth for Tomorrow. I went there three years ago to help them launch their music program, and it’s a campus that helps youth aged 12 to 18 who’ve been victims of sex trafficking and rape. I sat down at a conference table with 12 other little girls and I told them my story and then they went around and told theirs. The more I talked, the more they wanted to share, and it was just this incredible moment of showing up for each other and proving that we don’t need to fight all of our battles alone. We’re actually surrounded by a lot of people on this earth who are fighting similar things, and we just need to have the confidence to speak up about them, to find those people. I left that place that day knowing that it was the right time for me to share this and to talk about my story. I’ve tried to write songs about this and it always just ended up being too dark or too heavy. I eventually called up Brandy Clark and was like, ‘Brandy, I want to write a song about my story as a little girl and I would love for you to help me do that.’ And she’s like, ‘Thank you for having the courage to want to talk about this, and I would be honored to help you tell your story.’ In a matter of hours, we had ‘make you’ written. It was so freeing to be able to put my story into a song and then be able to release it in the world when my main intention is to prove that music has so much power and there’s so much healing. By releasing this story, it also helped me validate the 21-year-old girl and the 13-year-old girl within me to let them know that it’s okay and I’m taking each of their hands and we’re walking through this journey together and we’re going out and doing good because of it.

Shame and grief are such heavy feelings and we cannot deal with them by ignoring them. And I got really good at ignoring those feelings, so much so that it felt like my new normal…if I were to open up my DMs right now, I could read you so many incredible stories and so many heartbreaking stories. The fact that fans feel connected enough to me that they want to bare their souls and share these things that some people have not even ever told to anybody before, I feel just such a gratitude to their humility and wanting to share that with me…when you fully accept these things, it’s going to make you have a deeper appreciation than you ever have. I truly believe that it’s the things that bend and stain and break us is what make us who we are.

From this track alone, we can see Lindsay transform into a woman who wants to change the world through song, and write about the hard stuff, and not just party-all-night-pop songs (although those tracks still have their place in music today)… And if you’ve made it with me this far on heart theory, well I reckon Lindsay and her music are about to change the world in the lives of many- in a very massive way if they haven’t already! Having already shown us a track-for-track and like-for-like recording of her favourite album ever- John Mayer’s Continuum in the Continuum Project in 2018; Lindsay proves to us that heart theory isn’t her sophomore slump, and reminds us that though she sings about a break up in this album- there are so much layers to this musical and lyrical journey that we all can take each song and claim it for ourselves, even if we personally haven’t gone through the same journeys as Lindsay. Especially if we haven’t. The beauty of music is that it can touch so many lives, and when we remember this, we can appreciate heart theory as a standout album in 2020, and probably a standout album of this modern era. So as we continue about our day in quarantine, while we are bemoaning about when we are going to be back to ‘normal’; let us spin through this album several times, dwell upon the important relationships in life, and thank God for Lindsay Ell– one of the brightest and talented young musicians and songwriters of this generation. Well done Lindsay- I can’t wait to hear what God has in store for you next! Maybe a Christmas album or a live project?

3 songs to listen to: wrong girl, good on you, make you

Score: 5/5

RIYL: John Mayer, Lincoln Brewster, Martina McBride, Sheryl Crow

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