By Hannah Wisterman
This might sound harsh, but I’ve always been skeptical of musicians who get their start on YouTube. Yes, I know that this includes big names like Bieber and Shawn Mendes, but that’s exactly why. With a few notable exceptions, YouTube music tends to blend into the same brand of top-40-friendly acoustic pop and twee, overworked covers. Everyone’s trying to go viral to vault themselves into fame, and to be frank, it doesn’t lend itself to presenting genuinely unique talent.
The good news is that such homogeneity in the community makes the real gems pop out like stars in the sky. Case in point: Marie Hsiao, aka Mree, a dream folk artist who dabbles in both covers and originals. My first exposure to her was her absolutely stunning mashup of “Passion” and “Sanctuary” by Utada Hikaru. (Yes, it’s a Kingdom Hearts thing.) That particular video came out in 2016, a whole five years after Mree’s first album Grow. Grow dropped when Mree was just 18, and to be honest, it’s a bit of a product of its time. It’s easy acoustic pop that’s enjoyable enough but not quite breathtaking. But a mere two years later (that’s 2013, just to make the timeline clear), Mree turned that entirely on its head with Winterwell, showcasing her fondness for looping and the carefully constructed soundscapes that have now become her signature. The album is largely long, dreamy tracks laden with fades and big swells (“Night Owls,” “On Echo”), but there are definitely some pop songs peppered in (“Into the Well,” “Monsters”).
Mree matured even more with 2015’s Empty Nest. Winterwell was in no way excessive or over-busy, but Empty Nest found an even better balance between musical ambition and restraint. Mree’s voice—angelic to say the least—came to the forefront, and songs became less dreamy and more structured. Think Billie Marten with a looping pedal. Empty Nest is a go-to album for a sunny afternoon—or screw it, for a rainy one too. It’s a treasure trove of tiny details that make for a big impact and some of the best vocals you’re ever going to hear.
Since then, Mree’s released a smattering of singles, including a few Christmas songs (Mree-ified), the deliciously chill “Lava Lamp,” and most recently, in February, “In The Kitchen.” There’s no word yet on a new album, but that doesn’t make it any less important to get Mree into your library right now. Here’s why.
You need an artist like Mree in your back pocket. Sometimes you need the soft ambience of good indie, but so much of the genre will catch you off guard with how depressing it is. For example, I don’t recommend listening to Julien Baker’s entire discography when you want a chill day. But Mree? Mree’s up to the task. So often when I can’t decide what to listen to, I throw on a Mree record, and it turns out to be the perfect choice. Mree’s done the impossible: she’s accessible enough to satisfy a huge variety of tastes, but also talented enough at her craft to stand out as an amazing artist. There’s no tradeoff of being “too easy” or “too hardcore into the genre” or “too boring.” Trust me, you want a universally enjoyable artist like her on hand.
Mree is a bridge. I’ve often thought of her as the midpoint between Imogen Heap and Grouper, or between the Final Fantasy soundtracks and Lucy Rose. There’s a fantasy element to her indie, an atmospheric vibe to even her acoustic arrangements. This goes back to her accessibility: she’s never too deep into one genre that she can’t pull in another element. As soon as you think she’s a fully devoted acoustic indie babe, out come the synths and loops, so maybe you want to start looking into some chill pop. As soon as you think, “Oh, she does chill pop now,” she ventures into some ambient territory. It’s like a little sampler plate of a few different genres. Again, this is exactly why she’s perfect to put on when you’re not sure what you want. As mentioned, it’s easy to transition from her music into some intricate instrumentals, experimental ambient, or soft indie. A Mree album can serve as both a palate cleanser and a tastemaker.
To say that Mree is easy to cherish is an understatement. There are plenty of artists I’d love for everyone to listen to, but she’s one of the only ones I think everyone actually could listen to. In one of the busiest parts of the year, when everything seems uncertain and uncontrollable, it would do you good to have an artist like her, an artist who’s consistently calming and enjoyable and high quality, on tap.