Jayla Kai – ‘Epitome’ EP review: forthright vignettes of Woodstock life

“I don’t feel like a kid/Something I’m rid of now”, sings Jayla Kai on ‘Paperread’, each word croaked as if she’s sharing a private epiphany with the world. It’s one of many earnest, emotionally expressive moments on the 18-year-old’s debut EP ‘Epitome’ that suggests, at least for this young artist, the passing of youth is a perpetual battle of pain and confusion. Her observational songwriting is an attempt to slow down and make sense of the rush.

There’s a universality to the lyrics across these five tracks that belies the fact that Jayla is singing about specific moments from her early teenage years. Throughout, she digs into fragmented memories of growing up in Woodstock, New York as a homeschooled teenager trying to find her place in her local area’s music industry-populated circles; Four Tet, for example, lives down the road and has become somewhat of a mentor. She began writing the songs for this five-track EP aged 13 and finally wrapped things up earlier this year, making the collection an intimate reflection of her past and present, one that is perhaps defined by her own stubborn determination to make sure it entered the world one day.

Jayla excels at turning her worries into raw and captivating stories that tear through your heart with the speed of a comet. On ‘I Can’t Lie’, she paints a version of her younger self, one that was grief-stricken after shouldering the emotional labour of a first relationship. ‘Old Town’, meanwhile, nails the conflict of opportunity and claustrophobia that can accompany living in a well-connected community where rumours and judgements spread quickly. “Afraid of being like your parents never leaving this old town,” she repeats with a sigh over gentle bass hums. “All the kids are pushing to get out”. 

All of this feeling is transmitted through a lo-fi lens of clear melodies, uninflected vocals, and warm and tender guitar lines that soar once they are hit with a smattering of distortion. The huge, thrumming ‘Apple Tree’, with its emo singalong and witty, winking verses, pulls from the zero-fucks attitude of ‘Exile In Guyville’-era Liz Phair – it’s a vital, thunderous alt-rock anthem for a new generation. Jayla’s eagerness to explore bigger, meatier sounds hints at promising potential.

“Black hole world got me feeling big and small”, proclaims Jayla at the start of the muted, throbbing ‘Anthropology’. Like the rest of the endearingly honest and forthright ‘Epitome’, the song sees her ponder just how quickly life has changed, but its triumphant chorus is testament to not letting fear stand in the way of what she wants.


Jayla Kai epitome 2021

  • Release date: July 16
  • Label: Everybody’s Music