“There’s Always A Way.” : a Vessels of Light Review

It’s not unusual for the work you’re creating to embody aspects of you and your life. That’s what makes art amazing. It connects to the human in all of us when the creator lets go of this preconceived idea of who they’re supposed to be and let who they are color the canvas as they see fit. Vessels of Light is no different.

This Kingdom Hearts tribute album is painted with Kingdom Hearts references, from the beats used to the character like skits in between tracks, but that’s not what bonded me to this body of work by CreateLadyJ. I get it, Kingdom Hearts is the vehicle used to guide those listening through a beautifully told story of friendship, pain, a sense of loss, empowerment, and victory, but what is the message that is being told here? Am I glossing over the reoccurring theme of CreateLadyJ taking on the story of Aqua as her own? Yes, I kind of am. KH stans don’t come for me about this one. We’re in a pandemic and I got time. I’ll get to that later but follow my train of thinking.

The track placement for the album walks the listener through a story that is reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts. Vessels of Light (Intro) reminded me of the “dream” Sora had where he was asked questions that related to what was in his heart while fighting the darkness that also resided in him. It seemed so innocuous, but it helped set a tone for what was to come when he woke up. The Journey, for CreateLadyJ, was what happened when she “woke up” if you will.

“Even though this journey’s unwarranted
I honor it, I definitely can’t squander it
I have my role and it’s worth being one with it
I’ll keep my oath, the birth of a warrior
We’re hit with shit so young, it’s poisoning
Our hearts are either corrupt
Or just poised and grim
From boys to men
There’s no way to avoid the sin
So many are counting on me
So my only choice is to win…”

This is who I imagine CreateLadyJ to be. A strong person who knows what her role is in this life. She is the dependable one, the reliable one, the “strong friend” that memes tell you to check up on every now and then. This is a powerful mission statement of her core. But, it also is telling of the pressure the “strong ones” are put under and how fast it can happen. Once you’re the strong one, you have people counting on you; you can’t stop now. You have to hit the ground running or else you’ll get stuck. Who are you without people relying on you? What is your identity when you lose everyone like how Sora lost his friends in Night of Fate? Who is CreateLadyJ when she loses that security of her friends, her sense of identity, and feels the pressure of having to carry everything? You get an understanding of what rolls through her mind when you listen to tracks like The Forgotten and Troubled Waters.

The chorus sung by Hinda in The Forgotten softly echoes like the inner demons we all have in our heads. We tell ourselves that we’re doing okay, but that little demon that lives rent-free in our mind tells us what our anxiety is really saying.

“You’re barely even a memory
Your time has come to an end
You’re barely even a memory
So why must you keep trying?”

Here is where I’ll insert the story of Aqua because now it seems fitting and vital. You KH stans better be happy.

The story of Aqua is a mix of “strong friend” and Mama Bear in a cake no one should want. She puts in maximum effort in everything that she does, especially when it relates to her friends. If it saves them, she will sacrifice herself with a smile on her face because she knows they are okay. But what does that mean for Aqua? Where does that leave her? Well, that depends on where you stopped your Kingdom Hearts journey. If you stopped at Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep and got to the secret ending Blank Points, Aqua is at the Dark Meridian with hope in her heart that Sora will save her and her friends. If you got to Kingdom Hearts 3, you know that Aqua gets corrupted by darkness where she becomes Anti-Aqua who believes that she was forgotten. I bring this up because in Troubled Waters the lines between what is Aqua and what is CreateLadyJ become very blurred.

Just in case you want to get hip to some KH lore about Aqua

Troubled Waters is the heaviest and probably the strongest track of this entire album. The song come in strong with CreateLadyJ reflecting on how much weight she puts on herself and how much she gives for other people’s well-being. Then, suddenly she’s not needed anymore. She gave so much of herself for others and now she is tossed away. She slowly starts a breakdown of everything that is going wrong, her strong image is breaking, she is terrible, she is alone…and then a primal yell as her stained-glass breaks. Now, there is nothing but revenge.

“I am done being your savior
I am done making excuses for fucked up behavior
I am done drowning in sadness
I am done keeping my mind from unleashing this madness
I’ll actually attack you
You will suffer my wrath
I am not holding back
I will break you in half
You lost out on my love
It’s yourself you will hate
I laugh at this fact, cause you know it’s too late…”

Is this Anti-Aqua? Is this CreateLadyJ? I didn’t write it so I can’t tell you for sure, but in my heart of hearts I believe it’s both. And to me, that’s what made me understand the power of the Kingdom Hearts franchise.

In the grand scheme of things, Kingdom Hearts is a coming of age, slice of life kind of story. You get the heavy themes of friendship, growing up, learning about yourself, getting a HARD taste of life with sprinkles of adulthood, and that powerful moment where you come into your own and can stand in your power. Vessels of Light is everything that you can ask for in a tribute album to a game that leaves a lasting impression on those who play it.

CreateLadyJ embodied a full Kingdom Hearts journey and went through the same trials and tribulations that you would expect of any of the lead characters, no matter if it’s Sora or Aqua. Troubled Waters was her powerful adult moment where she saw the darkness that lies in her, but like Sora or Aqua, that doesn’t define all that she is. More lighthearted tracks like Again n Again and the Darkness of the Unknown bring home why characters like Sora and Aqua rise up to the occasion and win. It’s because of the power of those they hold close and them standing in their own power that propels them to victory. This album is as much as a story about Kingdom Heart as it is about how incredible CreateLadyJ is. Her vocal range and delivery, her play on words, the confidence and vulnerability she displays in this piece of work is inspiring and classical.

The playful dynamic between her and Cam3 is always welcomed. The almost competitiveness between her and Osiris Green in Darkness adds to the fighter energy they both have and the vibe the song wants to deliver. Twill Distilled with her dirty pop meets metal front woman in Heartless helped make this my favorite song off the album. From the fun skits to move the story along to the features who lent their amazing vocal work to make this album pop, Vessels of Light is for the Kingdom Hearts fan, but also those who want to learn how to make the art and not let the art make them.

Vessels of Light is available on all streaming platforms. Use this link to find your preferred streaming service. Make sure to use #VesselsOfLightLP to show your love for the album! Lyrics for Vessels of Light can be found here.

Vessels of Light LP Instrumental Album

The instrumental version of Vessels of Light will be available on December 1st. The Kingdom Hearts remixes were produced by Cam3.

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