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Some great things have come from New Jersey. Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Whitney Houston, Ripping Corpse… and Kelly Barber. Wave Break is an alternative rock band based out of Boston, Massachusetts fronted by Bridgewater, NJ indie darling Kelly Barber. As a solo artist Barber garnered a respectable following in the wider New Jersey region and she was bound to connect with a bunch of like-minded musicians. Wave Break is the result of just such an aligning of stars. If this single is anything to go by, Wave Break is obviously finds itself in the indie and alternative realm while maintaining the smooth pop edge of Barber's solo ventures. As a solo artist Kelly was pretty much headed into this direction as early as “My Own Contradiction” but especially with the promising “Breaking Barriers” EP and its follow-up single “If You Were Awake”. Wave Break puts rock back in alternative rock and infuses it with a helping of pop sensibilities.

Wave Break pretty much is Kelly’s band as it is. ‘Plaster City’, the lead single of a proposed full length album, builds upon what Barber had been doing as a solo artist but puts far greater emphasis on the alternative rock aspect. And for the better too. Kelly’s voice sounds the most optimal when put to some hard rocking tune. ‘Plaster City’ merges the pop sensibilities of early Avril Lavigne with the almost clinically produced, hook-laden alternative rock of Paramore (circa “Brand New Eyes”) and Blink-182. Wave Break doesn’t put its eggs in just a single basket and they tread the fine line between lighter alternative rock and finely tuned, smoothly produced and slightly more muscular pop-rock. It surely is a delicate balancing act between the crunch of the guitars and Barber’s ever so fragile vocals. It’s good to see Kelly branching out a bit here and going for a slightly more aggressive and jugular vocal style, although these things are, of course, relative. The pop punk descriptor is something of a misnomer as far we’re concerned. Wave Break is as as punk as Avril Lavigne and Blink-182, which wasn’t a whole lot to begin with. Pop-rock seems to cover most of their sound. Wave Break is definitely more alternative than, say, California's Polaris Rose or acts of similar ilk. All of which doesn't stop Wave Break from having written a stellar example of a hook-based pop-rock song. Hopefully the album will be able to live up to the initial promise of this single.

As for Kelly herself. You can’t keep a good woman down. Kelly has come a long way since “My Own Contradiction”. As a solo artist Kelly was pretty much headed into this direction with the promising “Breaking Barriers” EP and its follow-up single “If You Were Awake”. In comparison to Barber’s solo ventures Wave Break is a more hook-based affair with some powerful riffs and Kelly’s vocals, fragile as they tend to be, come across a bit more mean-spirited and spitting venom due to more muscular framework she’s surrounded with. Wave Break isn’t some profound sea change for Barber, even though the sound is slightly more muscular than her solo material, and it’s exactly the sort of project she was destined to front. Which doesn’t mean that Wave Break is but a mere sum of its parts. Every part is stellar in its own way, but there’s not a shred of doubt about the fact that this is first and foremost Kelly’s show. ‘Plaster City’ has the makings of a radio single, and it should work as such especially in her native America. Given the necessary streamlining Wave Break should be able to cross the Atlantic and find an audience for their wares in the Old World. Europe loves just the type of music that Kelly plays, definitely.

So where does that leave ‘Plaster City’ and the band that wrote it? It pretty much sits at that fork in the road between smooth guitar-oriented pop and a softer incarnation of alternative rock. Judging from this single Wave Break could go either direction in what is either its greatest asset or biggest pitfall. Personally we hope Kelly and her men decide on increasing the rock aspect of their sound as Barber’s sweet musings tend to blend in with a more poppier approach. The contrast between the rock instrumentation and Barber’s pop vocals is what ultimately sells Wave Break as a band. ‘Plaster City’ isn’t some great invention of the genre, but rather a reconfiguration that appeals to fans on both ends of the spectrum. It wouldn’t hurt Wave Break to crank up the guitars and bass and have Kelly write/sing about a subject really dear to her heart. As The Boss once wrote, “You can't start a fire without a spark” and the spark is definitely present on ‘Plaster City’. We’ll anxiously await when Wave Break decides to put the flame to the fuse – and when they do, there’ll certainly be plenty of fireworks.

Walloon sometime model, social activist, and singer Jamie-Lee Smit is Epictronic’s golden child and, supposedly, their ticket to the big time into the world of contemporary pop. Smit’s debut “Mon Amour Monique” certainly hit all the right notes. ‘Tu N’es Plus Mon Problème’ (‘You’re Not My Problem Anymore’, for those not speaking French) is what we take to be a precursor to Jamie-Lee’s second foray into the realm of pop and indie rock. Whether it is representative for the album it is preceding remains to be seen. ‘Tu N’es Plus Mon Problème’ is a midpaced pop song with some minor rock elements and stays largely within the same direction as Smit’s solo debut. It’s a more uptempo pop song than the majority of her first album, but like that album it also lacks a distinct hook to truly make it an earworm.

One of the great criticisms that could be leveled at Jamie-Lee’s solo debut from 2015 was that it was fairly dark and downbeat for being a pop/rock effort. Smit’s vocals, from the heart as always, never were the problem – and although it stands to reason that her singing in French is bound to limit her audience, that never stopped anybody from France Gall, Mylène Farmer, Céline Dion, Vanessa Paradis, or Alizée from becoming international superstars. If there’s any real difference between the two it’s that Jamie-Lee Smit, for hitherto unexplained and inexplicable reasons, was not given any upbeat songs that offer an instantly recognizable hook or melody thus far. Granted, Norwegian singer-songwriter Lene Marlin dominated that particular niche in the late nineties and early 2000s, but her biggest hit (after ‘Sitting Down Here’, that is) was ‘How Would It Be?’ from her third album “Lost In A Moment”. A record that, lest we neglect to mention, was unmistakably more upbeat than any of her past record at that point.

‘Tu N’es Plus Mon Problème’ is very much in line with what Lene Marlin was doing around the time of “Lost In A Moment”. It’s not even Jamie-Lee who is the problem, her powerful voice is as good as her positively radiant looks, but that the song can’t decide on what it wants to be. The midpace and Smit’s choice of melodies suggests that it just as easy could've been a fragile little ballad where the only support would come from an acoustic guitar, a cello and light (programmed) percussion. Yet the electric guitar and modest solo is something straight out of an upbeat pop/rock song in vein of Michelle Branch circa “The Spirit Room”. The strangest thing of all is that none of either really transpires. It’s too uptempo to really work as a more introspective number – and Smit’s emotional delivery is far too pronounced for it to work as such. Conversely, to ideally work as an upbeat pop/rock song ‘Tu N’es Plus Mon Problème’ is very much lacking in ways of a much-needed hook or melody. Certainly it is much lighter fare than most of the songs on “Mon Amour Monique” and the single is disarmingly beautiful for what it is. What Jamie-Lee needs is one, just one, great little pop/rock song to launch her to stardom. Perhaps it’s time to hire a new team of writers and composers to tailor a collection of songs to Jamie-Lee’s strengths as a singer and that the radio stations would love to play?

Whether it is ‘Everywhere’, ‘Sitting Down Here’, ‘Perfect View’, or ‘A Thousand Miles’ every pop song needs a hook. ‘Tu N’es Plus Mon Problème’ is hopefully an anomaly and not indicative of Jamie-Lee Smit’s second record as a solo artist. Epictronic is certainly pulling all resources to make her the star she deserves to be. While that is admirable in itself hopefully Smit’s soon-to-be second album will capitalize on hooks and choose what it wants to be. The undecisiveness of “Mon Amour Monique” was ultimately its undoing and ‘Tu N’es Plus Mon Problème’ could very well work if the surrounding songs play up to what the song is attempting to go for as a stand-alone piece. There’s nothing we’d want more than for Jamie-Lee, Epictronic’s resident blonde miracle, to reach that point where her music, or the music written for her, to be able to compete with the big pop/rock stars of the moment. Unfortunately on ‘Tu N’es Plus Mon Problème’ it doesn’t quite show yet, or at least not completely. Hopefully it’s merely a stepping stone to the one, that one great song. The potential and ability is certainly there, now all Jamie-Lee Smit needs is a little lighter material to sing to. 'Tu N’es Plus Mon Problème' is a song of and for survivors. Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton both survived their biggest hits and succesfully reinvented themselves as indie darlings in recent years. Jamie-Lee Smit might not be there yet, but in the meantime she’s certainly surviving.