New artists in 2013 don’t come any “2013”-ier than Lorde. Ella Yelich-O’Connor is 16, but she could be 25. She sings tough and raps soft. She’s from New Zealand, but she could just as easily be from Tampa or Glasgow or Dubrovnik. On her debut, she’s a tiny-life teenager and a throne-watching pop comer with a sound that recalls the Internet hip-hop of Kitty Pryde, the cold-storage torch pop of Lana Del Rey and the primal self-dredging of Florence Welch, while still sounding strangely sui generis. “Maybe the Internet raised us/Or maybe people are jerks,” she muses on “A World Alone.” She’s a child of the cloud.
Yet Pure Heroine feels surprisingly real and fully formed, punching through sparse, cushily booming post-hip-hop tracks with vividly searching lyrics about growing up too fast that can seem at once arrogant and pensive. “We’re so happy even when we’re smiling out of fear,” she sings on “Tennis Court.” Songs like the hit “Royals” are foreboding but catchy, hushed but hype. She’s great at dissecting her so-called life (“We’re hollow like the bottles that we drain”) and at evoking the feeling of loving hip-hop even as its impossible fantasies turn you inside out. “Team” is an ode to her friend crew, with a beat that booms like Run-DMC playing from inside a stu ed animal. But the song feels proudly isolated: “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air/So there/I’m kind of older than I was when I reveled without a care.” Ball up your fists anxiously at your sides to this shit.