Although Sarah Hayes and Peter Brewis do not exist in the space of musical theater, their debut self-titled album, You Tell Me, could certainly pass as an attempt at Broadway. The album’s theatrical effect brews from not only mawkish sentimentality, but also from a blatant attempt at a fresh blend of Hayes’s indie-folk and Brewis’s rock-pop, which unfortunately creates a trite sound.
One half of the You Tell Me duo is composed of Sarah Hayes, a Scottish flautist, keyboard player and singer. Hayes serves as one-fifth of the wholesome folk band Admiral Fallow in addition to having released her own debut album titled Woven, which establishes her skillful aptitude for flute and keyboard. Peter Brewis, the other half of You Tell Me, has seen success in his British rock band Field Music, while also using his strong compositional talent in the industry for more than fifteen years, particularly when it comes to electro-pop. Hayes sought Brewis out at a concert, and the You Tell Me pair was born.
You Tell Me attempts to blend the duo’s talents — Hayes’s ballad-like folk voice and Brewis’s hints of pop; however, the effect is more suited for a musical, as listeners can feel the gears of the duo glaringly turning to create an awe-inspired effect. Over-sentimentality is created not only with Hayes’s long-held notes, but also with the blatant corniness of the lyrics, which is most notably seen in “Invisible Ink”: “Held in a lie just so secrets are shown / They inspect, you oblige, every silence feeds the lie.” The melodrama continues in “Get Out of The Room”: “You’re scared of settling down / You already said you were moving away from me, now you’re asking if you can stay.” The emotions are there, unfortunately, they come across as plain-spoken.
More important than the overtly corny lyrics, the main contributor to the musical theater vibe is the album’s tendency to catch the listener with one sound, only to abruptly showcase a different noise. The best example of a track breaking back on itself in this way is the outro “Kabuki,” which begins with electronic pop, only to dip out of synths halfway through and completely burrow into theatrical strings. The blend trend in the music industry holds infinite rewards – the mix of varying talents oftens leading to a fresh, original sound. However, it feels as if You Tell Me serves as an exposition for each artist’s individual talents. Simply put, the album exists as a mix of oil and water, instead of inhabiting the space between Hayes and Brewis. Melodies break quickly, leaving the listener struggling to ground themselves, floating around between the two musicians’ styles.
Although the album cripples itself with an intense emphasis on the duo blending their sounds, their use of instruments clearly exhibits experience in the music industry. Catchy keyboard rhythms push the listener through each song, and strings delicately warrant attention. Most notably, You Tell Me holds moments of soothing complement — “Get Out Of The Room” features an even use of voice from Brewis and Hayes, and they capture a brief moment of rich sound. Unfortunately, as seen by a multitude of artists, (more than just You Tell Me), the space between contrasting entities proves quite hard to grasp, with high risk and powerful rewards.