Album Review | LUWTEN’s “Draft”

Amsterdam-based singer and producer Tessa Douwstra has been making and releasing music under the moniker LUWTEN since 2017 and is set to release her sophomore album Draft on 30 April 2021. Delicately combining minimalist synth-driven pop, with vibrant storytelling, LUWTEN’s pared back sound and musical resonance takes notes from musical peers such as Solange and Frank Ocean, meanwhile her production approach consists of influences from the likes of Steve Reich and Teebs.

Tessa lifted ‘Luwten’ from a Dutch word meaning ‘place without wind’ and it’s very easy to see how these earthy origins are reflected in her music to create a natural, all-encompassing sound that does more than appease the ears. Her music is a soundscape – taking isolated sounds from everyday life and assembling them to make art that lives and breathes. Tessa describes her 2020 EP ‘Door’ as “a study of a perfectionist who acknowledges that everything’s in a constant state of flux”. Life is never linear, and LUWTEN’s new project aims to explore this further.

The album opens with ‘The Thought of You’ and we’re immediately presented with a wall of electronically programmed voices that act as the percussion throughout the track. Paired with an acoustic guitar, the song has immense breadth and texture. The voice-centric percussion feels spacious and subverts the closed explicit lyrics of painfully missing a loved one. This subversion between instrumentation and vocals is something that remains powerful throughout the album, painting pictures of Tessa’s personal revelations. For Tessa, flux became the norm when her parents divorced whilst she was young, sending her and her sisters shuttling between two cities in the Netherlands. This experience has particularly impacted the voice we hear throughout Draft , with Tessa constantly exploring the contrasting themes of isolation and togetherness.

There is no better example of this than on the title track, where Tessa builds up samples of her family and friends singing a single note, collaborating in harmony. The use of single notes feels like a light gust of wind, or draft, flashing across the face and gives colour to the dark pain that can be heard in the repeated words: ‘I want to be alone’. Besides the beautiful contribution of her loved ones, the balance of intimate lyrical content and open instrumentation continues to create a multidimensional soundscape, with another moving relationship between the family of voices and Tessa’s introverted words of loneliness and confinement.

Tessa has found a familiar home with her music through the application of this full, living-breathing sound. She says, “I’ve never rooted anywhere specifically, and maybe that’s because I feel at home in my space but it doesn’t really matter where that space is: as long as I can be me there.” The album feels as though we’re visiting Tessa’s home; seeing memories on the wall and hearing family members in the living room. Draft marks a definitive move from Tessa towards opening up this space to us, authentically revealing the ever-evolving thoughts that lie within her head, or her home: “I don’t think we’re ever going to be finished and I like that idea of people as a never-ending draft.”

The stark and folk-influenced ‘Call Me In’, scrutinises just how far we hold ourselves to account for regrettable decisions and behaviours. These revelations may seem uncomfortably personal, but Tessa’s music addresses these confessions with openness. With a gentle acoustic guitar and voices stacked to create a soft choir effect, there is a refreshing feel to this track that stands out from the rest of the project. While it is poignant, the production feels more natural and unembellished – truthful minimalist song-writing at its best.

Draft is an incredible example of intimate, authentic song-writing mixed with fascinating, experimental instrumentation. LUWTEN’s ability to create natural multidimensional soundscapes while still appearing true and relatable is something to be admired. Although at times details in the production can sometimes get lost or overwhelmed by the complexities of a few tracks, there are some beautiful cuts on the project that should not go unheard. If you like your emotion raw but your ear intrigued, then this album will make a great listen. Tessa’s also currently curating and presenting her own podcast, Draft in which she speaks to other artists about their creative processes. In the latest episode she is joined by Charlotte Adigéry, and you can find the stream here.

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Album Review | LUWTEN’s “Draft”
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