Noah Cyrus Channels Doom and Gloom Into Cool Reflections With ‘The End of Everything’ EP

As the daughter of country star Billy Ray Cyrus, and sister of pop superstar Miley Cyrus, Noah Cyrus seems groomed for a career in music, and indeed is blossoming, albeit taking a course no one could have exactly predicted. Cyrus broke through with her 2016 single “Make Me (Cry),” a harbinger of the doom and gloom that has become a recurring theme in her music. After a steep rise to stardom, punctuated by collaborations with artists like Marshmello, XXXTentacion, and MØ, Cyrus released her debut EP, “Good Cry,” in 2018 following the highly publicized dissolution of her relationship with rapper Lil Xan. Her followup, “The End of Everything,” comes in turbulent times that justify such a title, and while her debut EP betrayed a feeble, wounded spirit, this EP channels these feelings into something ultimately lighter in spirit than one might expect, and finds Cyrus steadily finding a voice of her own, with a couple wild sonic detours along the way.

Opener “Ghost” is a moody number that sets the tone with Cyrus plunging straight into sweeping balladry, cloaked in reverb over lush orchestration and vaguely trap-informed percussion. She sings, “I’m staring at a ghost,” echoing Lana del Rey in both her lugubrious drawl and melodic gestures that, at moments, recall LDR’s “Video Games.” Haunting and atmospheric, yet easy and understated, it’s an effective introduction to the elusive sonic and lyrical space that Cyrus inhabits on this release. Next comes the promisingly titled “I Got So High That I Saw Jesus,” which finds Cyrus alone with her guitar in the type of withdrawn, rustic rumination that often gives rise to such revelations. A faint rhythmic splatter and fading strings enter the mix slowly as she muses about drinking, smoking, and sure enough, seeing Jesus. For a song inspired by so spectacular of a claim, it’s a relatively subdued affair, but perhaps that only points to the magnitude of the realization, with Cyrus having tapped into a zen-like state of calm. At any rate, it’s a sound and mood that fit her well, an example of the mellow composure that is steadily becoming a hallmark trait of Cyrus’.

This far in, there’s an understated elegance to Cyrus’ singing that manages to make everything work, allowing generally lacklustre songwriting to become more of an attribute than a disadvantage. The trend continues on the piano-driven “Liar,” which has a vaguely ‘90s radio alternative essence to its cooly contained angst. Platitudes like, “I was wrong to think I’m right” and “There is smoke where there’s a fire,” have a certain casual charm about them, for what they’re worth, and a welcome bit of edge comes from the climactic line of “I will always be a liar,” delivered deadpan after a bellowing buildup, to heightened effect. “Lonely” takes the same template and puts a soul slant on it, escalating with the aid of impassioned gospel outpourings. Cyrus picks up on the backing vocalists’ inflections, and adds extra melisma to her voice, but keeps it guarded, thank heavens, instead of descending into the type of foolhardy excesses that unchecked R&B inclinations often devolve into.  

The melancholy threads running through the album continue with “Young and Sad,” but begin to find an anchor. The song opens with a snippet of Billy Ray Cyrus consoling, “Hey bud, this is old dad… Keep a smile on your face.” The fact that it’s an actual message sent from father to daughter, combined with the folksy friendliness of the elder Cyrus’ tone, itself imparts volumes to the song, adding new depth to an otherwise relative throwaway. Cyrus goes on to sing in near desperation, with her still calm voice even evincing a slight wear and tear, but a barebones rhythm framing the whole affair with a sort of redemptive, rejuvenating spring. 

Cyrus takes new liberties with her singing on “July,” her double-tracked vocals taking divergent paths over propulsive guitar strumming, to easily the most infectious tune yet. In the end, whistling takes over melodic duties for the final magic touch. This song is an example of Cyrus at her best, unassuming, and impeccable. Then comes the wildly unanticipated “Wonder Years.” Cyrus shifts shapes and rattles out some neo-soul diva theatrics for a few bars, then launches into, of course, the “Wonder Years” theme song, originally lifted from the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Ant Clemons joins her for the type of rap-singing that finds its way into today’s trap and R&B fare in approximately equal measures. It makes for a drastic, divisive reimagining of the original tune, and also one of Cyrus’ most original songs to date. FInally comes the titular track, with returns to ascetic acoustics and a minimal stomp, with Cyrus repeating “Everyone you love is gonna die” as if it were a soothing salvo (and in a way, it is) in the sense of “Losing all hope is freedom.” At any rate, Cyrus delivers it in a tune and timbre that has that effect.  

At this incipient stage in Noah Cyrus’ artistic evolution, it’s still unclear what exactly to make of her. Her last EP had both bright and dark sonic moments with, at times, an almost cheerful lightheartedness of manner to Cyrus’ singing, and the followup continues in this vein, with the lines getting blurrier, the dimorphous tendencies evolving into one elusive blend. Also, whereas the last record found Cyrus shuttling between vaguely country stylings and R&B crooning, this release is less frenzied and more focused, save for the radical outlier that is “Wonder Years.” Cyrus is beginning to carve out her own niche — largely acoustic fare with a cool composure to the delivery that belies the tragic theatricality of its subject matter. It’s a sound that suits her well, and one that could take many directions as the “End of Everything” gives way to the next beginning.

The End of Everything” is available May 15 on Apple Music.