Since the age of 9, Chelsea Johnson’s life has revolved around music. Growing up with influences ranging from Stevie Wonder to Biggie Smalls, her own sound has been long in the making. Her experience in the scene exceeds just her role as an artist. Johnson has found roles ranging from songwriting, producing, to work in music publishing. She’s seen all parts of the industry, and she’s not slowing down until she’s conquered all.
As iamchelseaiam, Johnson’s music has very much reflected her influences. Her previous work held a personable singer-songwriter vibe, interlaced with touches of her R&B and soulful upbringings. Her sound has worked up to this point, but there was an untapped potential lurking just beneath the surface. On her latest offering, A Beautiful Mess, Johnson has let it bubble to the top.
Her latest EP, dropped just last Friday, shows Johnson fully embracing the R&B parts of her sound. This choice for the project accomplishes two things that helps propel iamchelseaiam to the top of the pack:
The heavier influences in R&B allow Johnson to really show off her vocal chops, which float and harmonize all over the EPs 5 tracks. Her voice blends and melds, layering samples and hooks upon each other to create an intoxicating sound. The project also allows for a more polished production, with trap beats and airy piano and synths giving the project a glossy finish.
With a step forward in production and vocal performance, Johnson has found her niche in the R&B sound of A Beautiful Mess, and it all allows her to show off her songwriting in a way that will make an even heavier impact.
On opening track “Pity Party,” Johnson sets the tone for the EP, seemingly fed up with the bullshit and taking the upperhand post breakup. “I made it crystal clear that I don’t want you in my life,” she sings. “You must be crazy if you think I’m spending one more night with you.”
Following the independent strength and fuckyouitiveness of the first track, the project takes a turn to a more vulnerable place on “Hurt People,” looking back on the relationship and the hurt it caused: “I never thought you’d be the one to treat me like, to hurt me like hurt people hurt.”
For the remainder of the EP, Johnson continues to explore herself and the relationship in a very open and honest way. She addresses the hurt that caused its break, the aftermath of watching it all crumble, and reflects on all the complex feelings that follow, all eventually leading to acceptance of its end.
On A Beautiful Mess, Johnson has let her strongest assets shine. With a more polished production and stronger vocal performance, her personable lyrics cut even deeper, and are sure to reflect with anyone who can relate to the topics explored. As her musical journey continues, she would surely find advantage in continuing down this avenue. However, with a mind and skill as sharp as hers, there’s no telling what may come next. Her talent will carry her in any direction her creative winds may blow.
Review by: Brendan Swogger
Brendan Swogger is a music writer and college student in Portland, OR. He is the Creative Director for The Crush blog. You can follow him on IG @indiealtpdx.