“I only write songs about things that I’m scared of,” Samia Finnerty sings on the final track of her debut album The Baby. Finnerty, who records under her first name, maps these fears with such precision and openness that her songs will feel just as much a part of your world as they are her’s.
This 20-something singer/songwriter fills her songs with minute details and impassioned memories, each one plucked with a distinct purpose, whether it’s symbolism, humor or painful intimacy. One of her early songs, “Milk,” tracked her simultaneous battle with grief (“Goodnight to my namesake”) and an eating disorder (“I’m in the bathroom seeing how far my two fingers can fit around my thigh”), while another titled “The Night Josh Tillman Listened to My Song” imagined a disappointing encounter with one of her songwriting inspirations, Father John Misty.
Like most of us, Finnerty has many fears, but a fear of vulnerability isn’t one of them. Her first full-length The Baby is intimate to the point where her feelings become your feelings. On the opening track “Pool,” she worries about her desperation for companionship (“And then I said, ‘I’m afraid that I need men’ / You said, ‘Need me then’”), a fear which manifests in several ways throughout the album. On “Big Wheel,” she brushes off something that really hurt her to maintain a relationship (“I understand the thing you did / And every reason you did it / But I’m so mad dude and I wanna cry / I got bad news but I didn’t fight”), and on “Triptych,” she clings to others for artistic inspiration (“I will entertain your feet or your hands for a triptych”) and out of fear of loneliness (“I would give it up to every man I love / I take what I can get”).
Her songwriting is poignant enough on its own, but her vocals turn these lines into lyrical fireworks. The graceful airiness, spunky confidence and full-throated catharsis of her voice is a frequent source of waterworks. Although she expels lots of poetic detail in the verses, she says exactly what she means in her choruses, which are only amplified by her powerhouse vocals.
Her early material consisted of mostly paired-down piano or guitar-based songs, but her new tracks are elevated by lively synths and dynamic production. Her downtempo songs sound just as intimate as they did before, but they’re now imbued with sublime textures and layered vocals that make for a steeper emotional climb. The acoustic closing track “Is There Something in the Movies?” and minimal synth-based “Winnebago” sound just as big as soaring, instantly catchy singles like “Big Wheel” and “Fit N Full.” The Baby spans ’90s pop/rock, sparkling bedroom pop and folky introspections, all tied together by her lofty vocals and distinct lyrical style.
Samia is bold and resilient—something young women don’t get much credit for, despite fully embodying both qualities. She yearns to show off her birthday suit on “Fit N Full,” shamelessly details a sexual encounter on “Limbo Bitch,” battles past traumas on “Stellate” and both literally and figuratively licks her wounds on “Does Not Heal.” If you’ve ever been in a women’s restroom on a night out, you’re familiar with the experience of having a five-minute conversation with a stranger, but already learning each other’s bumpy life stories and becoming each other’s biggest fans—shortcomings, smudged makeup and all. This is how you’ll feel after listening to The Baby. The album isn’t about girl power, and its experiences aren’t unique to women by any means, but the way it makes room for one’s flaws feels especially powerful when women today are still slut-shamed, forced into antiquated gender roles and airbrushed in advertising.
“God, I’m really gonna blow with all this empathetic shit,” she sings on “Big Wheel,” which shows her subtle humor and acknowledges another potential imperfection. These multifaceted details are aplenty on her album. The lyrics to the quiet background vocals on “Fit N Full” are intensely evocative yet cryptic (“The cleaning thing / The tidal creek / The murderous bird / Her bleeding beak”) and the closing track “Is There Something in the Movies?” possesses several sweet yet heart-rending lines (“Carried around a stuffed pig in my arms and I did it until I was five / I got it from someone who died of attention and lived an extraordinary life”).
The Baby is teeming with exceptional depth and pop/rock hooks that ascend effortlessly. Samia not only identifies her fears, but also sprints towards them, searching for the source, the ways they manifest in reality and underlying lessons to be learned. It seems like fears outweigh hopes for many in her generation, but she converts her trepidations into something meaningful, which makes her songs that much more essential and urgent for the present day. She proves herself as a compelling vocalist whose tenderness and power are equally entrancing. The rich instrumentals heighten the emotional capacity of her songs, but never overshadow her vocal talent. Samia thrives on acuity and passion, which very well could carry her through a long, impactful career.
Lizzie Manno is an associate music editor, Coldplay apologist, bread obsessive and lover of all things indie, punk and shoegaze at Paste. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieManno