There’s always been a gentle fire burning within Holly Humberstone’s music. Her pulsing yet cooly understated debut EP, 2020’s ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’, was stuffed with songs for the anxious, the isolated and the searching; a record where the emotional labour of its creation carried through to its listeners. Humberstone wrote about her personal relationships – both romantic and familial – with cutting specificity: “Sister, I’m trying to hold off the lightning / And help you escape from your head,” sang the 21-year-old on ‘Deep End’, a heart-wrenching account of her younger sibling’s depression.
A similar blend of darkness and light runs through its follow-up ‘The Walls Are Way Too Thin’, a six-track collection that is remarkable for its emotional insight. But this time around, there is a new sense of warmth and levity to the music: opener ‘Friendly Fire’ sees Humberstone tend to herself after a failed romance atop a wash of ambient guitar and pretty mid-tempo melodies. Its brooding chords build into a hook about painful endings, soaring beautifully alongside Humberstone’s tender, folksy delivery.
Humberstone’s production has become more adventurous, meaning that this EP takes on a different texture and mood compared to its predecessor. She enlists the help of Matty Healy on ‘Please Don’t Leave Just Yet’, which noticeably contains many of the hallmarks of an early The 1975 song: weighty 808s, spidery electronic flourishes and layered harmonies. This slow-burning number will sound inviting to fans of the Healy-led band, but its familiar sonic tricks overshadow any fresh ideas and therefore cloud this EP’s intentions to truly tread new ground.
At their best, the arrangements here feel like thoughts in progress, with Humberstone’s distinctive vocal speaking to the turbulent feelings that bubble underneath the surface of her songs. Her voice is presented unadorned on both the luminous ‘Thursday’ and ‘Haunted House’, the emotional peak of the EP. On the latter she forswears the layers of reverb found elsewhere, and what we’re left with is achingly beautiful. “Nowhere else would sting as sweet / Can’t believe we’re turning off the light,” she quietly sings about having to leave her childhood home.
‘Scarlett’ is also inspired by Humberstone’s own life experiences as she resolves her real-life best friend’s break-up with a touch of humour (“We go together like bad British weather / On the one day I made plans”). It’s a light-hearted ode to how Humberstone sees that heartbreak is behind her and hope is always just ahead, a flame that keeps reigniting despite all attempts to extinguish it.
Release date: November 12
Record label: Polydor
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