In a year flanked with cowboy and country themes, Cowgirl Clue flips the script on the current stream of Southern drawls and slow bluesy numbers, breaking out with her first full-length album filled with the sugary sweet pop tracks that we’ve come to expect from her. Ashley Clue fills a gap left behind by the oversaturated Burger Records scene and appropriately moves on from a garage rock sentiment to the inevitable electronic direction that the scene has traditionally scoffed at. Together with The Garden and similar contemporaries, they helm their self-described style known as Vada Vada, a sort of altered mod-to-punk fashion mixed with colorful ’80s maximalism, except with a stronger emphasis on pastels than neon.
When executed, the style of Vada Vada comes off as a celebration of early 2000s live-action kids comedies and golden-era Nickelodeon, only more grown-up and fashion-forward. Artistic statements that are made within the style are intentionally superficial but are so numerous and rapid-fire, it’s difficult to discern the ironic worship of pop culture from the genuine respect for art. This is best seen on the track “An Accessory,” where Ashley plays this sort of Clueless-type character desperately buying her friends at the mall, simultaneously critiquing capitalism while playing into the hype of manufactured anti-thrift.
The music comes across a psychedelic Disney Channel music video coupled with a devil may care K Records/Jonathan Richman delivery. Contrary to her earlier singles, Ashley bumps up the production value on these tracks, coming through with mixes that are more fully realized and reach a quality standard similar to the milieu of throwback indie acts cashing in on the nostalgia, though Ashley separates herself deliberately from these acts with her off-kilter style and penchant for reaching for synth patches and sounds that you “aren’t supposed to use.”
The album itself comes packed with what are essentially club tracks, or what used to be club tracks once upon a time. There’s a lot of connection to acts like Le Tigre and Strawberry Switchblade, of which Ashley has for sure taken the best bits and flipped them with her fast-paced instrumentals and breathy, auto-tuned voice. Fusing dance genres such as drum and bass, deep house, and Eurodance with at least 4 different subgenres of pop (twee + dream + electro + bubblegum), Ashley gives us this mixtape of an album that runs short on interludes but strong on ideas.
Songs either take jittery leaps from section to section or smoothly transition via Ashley’s established DJ skills, when not acting as one of the completed pop hit tracks scattered throughout the album. There’s this overall endearing theme of innocence in her tracks, like a sincere call back to the pure joy of princess and fairy costumes and living room karaoke that makes for good middle school memories. It’s this unbridled positivity that makes Cowgirl Clue stick out in a scene filled with noise and harsh emotions, and she couples it with enough self-awareness to keep it from being ignorantly happy.