Berlin-based singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou’s life was turned upside down in 2022 when she had to move back to her home country South Africa, and while the move was jarring, it inspired her fifth album Shelter, released on July 7, 2023. Lou released her debut album Orbit in 2016 to critical acclaim, the collection skyrocketing her career to worldwide tours and over a million monthly Spotify listeners. At her new place, both literally and figuratively, Lou has spent the past year reflecting on what it really means to have a home, and the result came in a nine-track album covering life, new experiences, and self-love.
Shelter opens with “Angel,” a beautifully simple track that showcases Lou’s delicate, yet dreamy, voice. The following song, “Shelter,” amps up the pace a bit more, but retains the lightness of Lou’s sound. As she sings about changing her life so its centered around her instead of others, she says, “Gonna take shelter, gonna run for cover, yeah/With only myself looking out for me/I’m done seeing what everyone else sees in me/I just have to feel it for myself.”
“Open My Door,” the third song on Shelter, maintains the dreamy, jazz atmosphere of Lou’s style, but incorporates harder piano chords and synth-ed-out beats to describe her new phase in life, one where she’s gaining control over her own narrative. In an almost self-pep-talk style, she sings, “It’s such a new kind of living/I’m picking myself up off the carpet/I’m running my hands over my body/I’m back on land, welcome to your life, Alice.”
“Lose My Head” and “Halo,” the fourth and sixth tracks respectively, utilize lively acoustic guitar strums and quicker drum pounds to create a more upbeat feel. “Halo” delves into the idea of feeling more secure in yourself: “And I don’t need anybody/I’ll go out walking, clear my head/Haven’t done much talking since I landed in this funny heaven/It’s a little lonely, but I don’t mind.” Like flowers blooming after a harsh winter, these two songs mix together Lou’s signature light feeling with summer-like bliss and idealism.
The eighth song “Hammer” draws in the soft piano styles of the late 50s, with Lou harmonizing each lyric to the simple piano and acoustic guitar instrumentals. Shelter concludes with “My Girl,” a sweet but powerful song delving into the world’s patriarchal structure, and the need for women to support one another. “That bite as you fight for your body to be nobody’s but yours/Your body’s, nobody’s but yours/Sharpen your claws, my girl/Learn to love your flaws, my girl.”
Despite the dramatic life changes Alice Phoebe Lou underwent in the past year, she was able to transform every complicated feeling into a blissful, yet impactful, nine tracks on Shelter, each song reminding listeners — and herself — that a home is rarely one place, but rather your attitude towards where you are.