Brave debut from a promising songstress

Review by Mark Anthony Brennan

Victoria’s Zoey Ockenden (a.k.a. lavallee) recently released her debut EP. ‘above the treeline’ comes with minimal musical accompaniment, placing Ockenden’s singing and lyrics front and centre. This is a brave move, given the wealth of strong female singer-songwriters out there today. But if Ockenden is at all daunted by the task, she does a good job of hiding it. So comfortable is she in her own musical skin that ‘above the treeline’ sounds like the work of a veteran.

The EP is a satisfying listen, with each track stronger than its predecessor. ‘Tides’ introduces the EP in fairly familiar territory with a folk/pop confessional about a woman who regrets that she can no longer maintain a relationship eroded over time. The tempo picks up slightly with ‘Pony Circus’, although the subject matter is just as mournful. Here the singer begs her lover to buy her a pony, take her to Russia, buy her a dress or just about anything to bring some joy into their life. After all, she gripes, “…you owe me…”

The next track ‘Ragdoll Waltz’ technically is a waltz, but you won’t find yourself tempted to hit the dance floor. It’s a break-up song where the narrator admits she saw it coming. Even though he is the one leaving, she was willing to drag him into a doomed relationship, making her equally guilty. In ‘Pack of Wolves’ Ockenden’s dark outlook hits a low point. Our inner demons, she tells us, are like a pack of wolves, and they are always there waiting for us. Her piano pounds out an ominous tune, and the harmonizing voice that hovers over the chorus adds to the despondent air. The song also features a crisp guitar solo by Ockenden’s brother Ryan (the only other performer to appear on the EP).

The closer ‘Sugarcane’ is the standout track. All instrumentation is abandoned, leaving Ockenden to play to her strength. The southern-tinged lyrics set in a country/blues style demonstrate Ockenden’s vocals well. On this track she is in her comfort zone as she sings about a woman on a journey. It is not clear whether the “place” she is leaving behind is literal or figurative, but it doesn’t matter. What we do learn is that she is moving on to a better place and that “…my heart feels more like a heart today/than money spent in a gambler’s rage…” So, after all the doom and gloom, Ockenden leaves us on a positive note.

‘above the treeline’ showcases the talents of a gifted lyricist with a distinctive voice. This is a strong first outing, and it will leave you looking forward to whatever Ockenden does next.

Check out Ockenden’s bandcamp here:

Mark Anthony Brennan is a fiction writer and freelance article writer living in Victoria.