Think “Birdy” and what likely springs to mind is the starkly emotive, folk-tinged stylings of her self-titled, best-selling debut album—a 2011 collection of cover songs—or perhaps the sophisticated baroque influences of her subsequent releases. Portraits marks a distinct departure from the singer-songwriter’s signature sound, forgoing tender midtempos in favor of surging choruses and electronic flourishes inspired by the 1980s. A cohort of pop-oriented songwriters and producers have been enlisted to aid in the navigation of this change in creative direction, including Anya Jones (Little Mix, Tom Grennan), Gabe Simon (Dua Lipa, Lana Del Rey), and production partners Dan Priddy and Mark Crew (Bastille, Rag’n’Bone Man). The result is a dynamic showcase of Birdy’s core strengths—expressive vocals, impassioned lyricism—streamlined to pack the soul-deep sentiments at the album’s core with the same punch as a traditional pop hit. Taking cues from alternative icons like Kate Bush and David Bowie, whose essence can be heard most keenly on sister songs “Ruins I” and “Ruins II,” and “I Wish I Was a Shooting Star,” Portraits strikes a confident balance between the mainstream and the avant garde. Gentle piano ballad “Your Arms” finds Birdy in typically reflective form, while the irresistibly effervescent opening track “Paradise Calling” and “Automatic” move the introspective star out of her head and galvanize the body into action. Even the heartbreak—so integral to Birdy’s musical identity—has an optimistic shimmer, hitting emotional rock bottom on “Tears Don’t Fall” and bouncing back rather than shattering on impact as the record throbs to an end. It feels like a natural progression, rendering a clear image of an intuitively experimental artist across the face of this sonic evolution. The ethereal mystique that made Birdy so compelling when she first emerged onto the scene as a shy 14-year-old is still worth keeping in mind. But Portraits is an invitation to think again.

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