Two of the newest artists to watch are currently working through their undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania. Eleven, a budding band started by Blue Bookhard and Karis Stephens, recently released their single “Step Forward.” Bookhard floats you in with sounds just shy of evanescent, before dipping down to more grounded tones on the synth. Stephen wanders onto the beat moments later, with a voice smoothed out by her acapella experience. She leaves traces of an Alessandra Cara kind of lull, while dishing out lyrics more fitting to an album by Marian Hill, a more established Philadelphia duo, “You don’t like the rain/a gemini too, 5’6” on a good day.”
Unsurprisingly, Blue attributes Samantha Gongol and Jeremy Lloyd (the duo Marian Hill) as having significant influence on the developing sound of Eleven, drawing on their melding of jazz, r&b, synthpop and the cherry-on-top layer of vocals. Eleven avoids the trap of becoming a copycat group by sticking to Stephen’s stronger, deeper vocal range and Bookhard’s more experimental hand on the synth. According to the group, they have also been influenced by Jhené Aiko and Mayer Hawthorne, though that is not so evident in “Step Forward,” because the single exudes more pop than experimental or soul. But, it’s easy to picture how the duo could shape themselves to adopt more of these artists’ elements.
While both artists identify a strong jazz influence in their work, Stephen also recognizes a pull towards pop in her vocals. Bookhard, drawing on his experience as a drummer, sees his sound as carrying a strong Caribbean influence that he intends to push alongside the R&B and jazz elements in Eleven’s work moving forward. The duo looks to the similar blending done by Drake and Rihanna as inspiration to explore the space between genres in their own music. “As a DJ,” he finds that “things fit together like a puzzle.”
All the puzzle pieces in “Step Forward” seem to be right where they should be. Though the single leans heavily on the influences from other artists, it nonetheless stands apart from them — it’s a catchy song that you will want to listen to days later. Stephen and Bookhard aren’t at the same peak performance of duos they look up to, but they’ll ease into it with time and practice. In the meantime, we’ve all got a great new line for that one guy who won’t stop kind of insulting you and kind of hitting on you: “you’re that piece of gum stuck on my shoe/that phone bill 3 weeks overdue/like the note that’s not on the chord/hell no, stand back, real brother step forward.”
Editor’s Note: Currently, the music video is only available via Facebook and is embedded in this article.
Jessie Weber is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]