Vo Lives Dangerously with Shades Down

Originally Published: January 26, 2020

Written by Ray Ceo Jr. | Edited by Lisa Schulman

If you are wondering what Brooklyn sounds like, just go listen to Paulina Vo’s newest single, “Shades Down.”  

The young indie musician has somehow captured the very sound of a late-20-something or early-30-something subculture of America who have found themselves, in some ways, completely lost and, in other ways, not needing to be found at all. This gaggle of misfits and all of their ideas of life and love, of being loud but wanting no one to hear us, of everyone being unique that no one stands out (and no wants to,) and all the spaces of the high/low extremes we claim, is packed into a single song that runs just over four short minutes. It’s ridiculously good. 

Vo’s “Shades Down” starts with this bold, kind of intense, and frankly aggressive first line. It scared me at first, but then nearly immediately grew on me, and now I like – no, love it. It’s in your face with no apologies, giving a kick start to a fairly tender song. The song definitely has its own blues influence. You can hear snapping as a means to set rhythm, as well as a very slow tempo. The keyboard adds to this and it’s just all around well put together. The opening line, which is played throughout as another means to set the beat of the song, plays at appropriate measures, and really works well to speed up the song. It is welcomed as it assures the song is not sluggish. It also tells a very interesting story. 
Technically speaking, the song is produced well, and demonstrates that Vo has not merely mastered the live performances she is best known, but can hold her own in a studio. You don’t miss some of her softer sung lyrics like on her first album.

The song has a compelling juxtaposition of being bold at times, incredibly loud at times, while also being quite seemingly quiet, simple, and with even a really soft, almost gentle in approach. This leaves listeners feeling like it captures the late night bar scene of Brooklyn impeccably. You feel like you’re in a Williamsburg bar at around 3am with every line. 

Also impeccable is Vo’s voice. It is, as always, just beautiful, and it’s clear she works to keep it fresh and exciting. She has certainly come a long way since her first album “Stranger with the Green Sleeves,” as “Shades Down” is soulfully different than the Los Angeles influences of “Ms. Vo (Cool Enough)” and “The Ballet of Sophie and Pierre.” Vo has grown a lot and it’s very apparent in this single. She’s certainly grown quite a bit since her days of being just a girl with a guitar, as she was when I first met her in 2002. Her voice takes your breath away and it’s no surprise to hear she has been continuing her vocal education with on-going lessons, as we learned in our interview with her. 

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Attempting to sing along quite literally left me breathless. What Vo does with ease, I struggled to do, despite my many attempts. It obvious who the musician here is. 

Shades Down” also demonstrates vulnerability that isn’t always heard in today’s music but certainly is a trademark of Vo. Heartfelt and tender, Vo feels those emotions and lets you in on it. 

Notably, she isn’t trying to prove to anyone how skilled she is as a musician. She doesn’t just have some skill either, but there’s plain raw talent in Vo, that sort of x-factor or je ne sais quoi, that cannot be described beyond an overt jaw drop with just a touch of drool and starstruck eyes. Her voice, although vibrant in parts, is genuine and even quiet here. Vo isn’t belting out lyrics or attempting to hit new vocal highs or lows like she did early in her career. She doesn’t need to. There are no stylized runs, but rather it’s her subtleness that is really most powerful. You have a talented woman using all of her skills and doing it so easily that is most intriguing. It’s obvious Vo is not trying to tell people how talented she is; she’s outgrown that. Rather, she’s enjoying her craft and enjoying her process. She is kind enough to take us along for the ride, for that I am grateful. 

Don’t get me wrong, either, it’s painstakingly obvious that she is quite gifted vocally, but she makes no outlandish attempt in this song to prove it. Instead, her talent is just brushed off, a casual aside, which is why you notice it just that much more. It’s really quite brilliant. She isn’t reaching for the stars here, but rather, she is demonstrating she is among them already. And honestly, I don’t think she means to. That’s what’s most exciting about this song. 

The song’s overall tone is majestic and just plain provocative. The lyrics are dangerously relatable, because we’ve all been there, stuck in a moment of being angry and being miserable and then just deciding one day we can’t be any of that anymore. We have all been proud that we have decided to move on to get up, brush ourselves off, and choose to be better. She makes it obvious that she is not broken, stating so quite directly in a New York in-your-face way. I found it lovely. 
Vo takes this song to complex levels throughout. There are avant-garde indie tones at moments, but she still makes this song available to the mainstream music lovers like myself by adhering to some modern pop techniques. It’s catchy, while nearly impossible to catch it all from the first, second, third, or even tenth listen. (Believe me, I’ve tried). It’s quivering and commanding in many ways, and frankly just about the best way to describe the once rejected, ragtag indie types who have crafted a subculture not enough musicians are speaking to, or singing about. There’s a niche this song speaks to but it’s so delicately accessible a guy like me who still listens to Paris Hilton’s “Stars Are Blind” can easily enjoy and truly understand. 

This is sure to be a hit, but Ms. Vo best be careful, as she is walking a fine line and could be putting herself in danger of no longer being an indie musician at all. Rather, she may just pull the mainstream into her domain with “Shades Down.
As well she should. She’s earned it. 

Overall: 4.5/5 stars 

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