Celeste has a sheer sonic nostalgia she exudes that is impossible to pinpoint. I’ve concluded that the reason is she doesn’t exactly sound like anyone. How does a seemingly fresh new voice make you dwell upon a comforting time in the past? I think her soundscapes remind me of two things: elements of the jazz that was played during family thanksgiving celebrations on Long Island and potentially music I heard in a past life.
I had never heard any of Celeste’s music before Not Your Muse dropped, so when the previously released “Strange (Edit)” came onto my speakers towards the top of the album, I stopped everything I was doing. On the track, Celeste sings, “I touch your head to pull your thoughts into my hand, but now I can’t. Say, isn’t it strange?”
When these lyrics, with a slightly eerie tone hit me, I felt a weird twinge of familial warmth. I couldn’t register if it felt like my mother was singing them to calm me though she couldn’t read my mind as she could in my youth or if the lyrics were yanking on another version of me long before my birth.
Celeste has many upbeat danceable songs throughout her project Not Your Muse, which are worthwhile joys. However, the moments that stuck with me and made me want to go back are those like the one mentioned above. The songs that are more stripped back and conversational pull at my heartstrings like my internal organs are an upright bass onstage backing Coltrane. On the title track “Not Your Muse,” Celeste sings, “I can be bold. Decorate me, adore me, baby / But I can’t be owned. It’s not part of my design, I’ll let you know / When I need you to liberate me, I’ll hold my pose / But I’m not your, I’m not your muse.”
To put such purely poetic and complex lines on the hook of your song rather than the verse is a rare occurrence. Usually, artists reserve a chorus for a more succinct thought that sums everything up. With potentially her most craveable melody of the album, Celeste delivers beautifully clear and rounded instructions to a lover on how to love her at her worth. It’s stirring.
On my final favorite album cut, “A Kiss,” Celeste sings this time a pre-chorus that feels like it should be part of a verse due to its depth. She croons, “It tastes like seasons long ago. I bit your lip and left you swollen. Lead me, lead me, lead me like you do.” Temptation through the particular imagery of a memory grabs your attention like a car horn. Celeste’s demanding of her past lover to replicate a moment is something we can all hook into the desire of. When she lets her tone and words be the center of attention on the album, the world fades in your periphery.
At my preference, the album would follow more of the path I explained pulled me in personally. Though regardless of that, Not Your Muse is still undeniably elite. Celeste is vintage yet contemporary and unwise to ignore, for you may miss an opportunity to find solace in her atypical expression.