By: Hope Ankney
Absorbing New Jersey-bred, Ella Ross’s newest EP is like reminding oneself to not be someone’s smoke break. Wasted Youth is Ross’ attempt to vocalize that she is not a stick to be bought at a convenient mart for a couple bucks in a pack of others meant to look exactly like her- because she’s more than someone’s temporary fix to a problem. She isn’t the remains that lick through the seams of one’s lips billowing in ashy grey up to the clouds. She isn’t a pack of smokes to calm one down in the dead of winter, only given attention to until she’s nothing but a stub, until their pulse lowers and their problems are floating to the back of their head as elegantly as she seeped out of their mouth. She’s much more and being in a tumultuous relationship is just as difficult as it is for one to rid themselves of puffing on cigarettes.
Ella Ross’s Wasted Youth rides a slow-burn as it chronicles an emotional tilt-a-whirl that results from giving your heart to someone who is unwilling to provide it shade from the beating sun. The record is more than meets the eye as it’s soft-exterior fades the deeper one digs into its tracks- showcasing a darker and richer core that catches the listener by surprise. It isn’t exactly as bright as one would expect from an indie-pop artist, but it’s intriguing if not enticing to journey into the thick of a torched mind.
Opening with the lightest track, “Hurt” delves into a lyrically inclined tune that discusses how the timing is never right between two people yet still wanting to cross that line again which sets the mood for the rest of the project. The track is accompanied by the sunniest chorus and hottest melody that would benefit from being played at the dusk of a music festival as this care-free vibe fades from the record as soon as it arrives.
“Dream” is appropriately named as it makes one feel they’re drifting through the labyrinth of their dreams. Ross’ vocals are sultry overlaid the prominent percussion as she melancholily croons, “I don’t want to wake up because I know you won’t be there.” The synths tumble like waterfalls sporadically throughout the lovesick track before it fades into the more alternative-pop ballad “Before Tonight.”
The standout of “Wasted Youth” falls on the back of “Basement Parties,” a song that is self-reflective, looking hard into the mirror of one’s past. Featuring the smoothest vocal delivery from Ross on the EP, the track continuously stresses that the parties of youth she used to find herself passed out on her best friend’s or ex’s floor of is not who she is anymore. Breaking down in the bathroom, feeling lost in a skin that she’s grown too large for, her voice is almost pleading the listener to believe that she isn’t who she was. The bottles of anxiety she drinks are stand-ins for those high school parties that end in nothing but bigger voids and superficial baggage. Furthermore, the sparkling production on the song lends to Ross’ bittersweet transition period.
Both “Plastic” and “Everything We Thought” causes embers to rise through their dominant instrumentals, Bay-City guitar riffs, and haunting musicality. They both feed off one another’s need to vent the toxicity of a lover, showcasing the range of Ross’s vocals as her voice leans towards a Tegan & Sara and Dagny love child.
The slow-burn reaches its peak as the closing track “On Your Mark” lights a raging fire underneath her. The intro to the track is electrifying, almost sizzling in nature as Ross sounds more brash and bare-faced against the charring instrumentals. Holding the same spunk and tenacity as PVRIS’ Lynn Gunn, her vocals are deep and thick. She blazes through lyrics like “They told me to run, but I never heard the gun,” and “Don’t stop lying. I won’t stop loving,” causing one to feel the heat behind her words that are tinged with empowerment after the charcoal that has become her relationship to the one she loves.
Wasted Youth proves that Ella Ross is not a bad habit or a hidden addiction one airs their car windows out to rid of her smell, brushing their teeth to rid her from their breath. She isn’t a ghost of secondhand smoke, but a haunt much more permanent than the problems one uses her to distract themselves from. She isn’t a smoke break, but she is a lingering spirit that will remain far longer and powerful than anything someone will try to distastefully use her to scorch through. Wasted Youth symbolizes Ross’s ability to be a stick of change even throughout a sticky relationship she can’t seem to fully shake, but once she’s gone her imprint will remain.