Holly Humberstone: ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ album review - a delicate soundtrack for winter reflection

Holly Humberstone’s ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ serves refined portions of delightful alt-pop, which may leave the listener hankering for more
Holly Humberstone: ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ album review - a delicate soundtrack for winter reflection   Holly Humberstone: ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ album review - a delicate soundtrack for winter reflection
Holly Humberstone: ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ album review - a delicate soundtrack for winter reflection

The rise of Holly Humberstone was hampered by a pandemic-sized thundercloud hanging over 2020. While most artists struggled being trapped inside our tinny speakers, smothered so to not piss off our house mates, Holly’s delicate motifs found a home. It was the perfect way for fans to become acquainted with the Grantham-born star.

Emerging unscathed with millions of listeners; late-night stints on Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert; a supporting slot for Olivia Rodrigo, and a Brit Award for Rising Star - not bad going for a self-confessed introvert on a mission to self-sabotage - Holly’s fistful of achievements are remarkable but there’s one striking omission, a debut record.

Paint My Room Black is though, a puzzling release. Maybe because Can You Afford To Lose Me? - an extended collection of songs integrating the artist’s first two EP’s - was assembled so perfectly it’s hard to believe it’s not a studio album. Fortunately for fans, there’s no stylistic departure or faux sophomore switch-up here, it’s Holly on homespun terrain.

The 23-year-old’s music writhes in confessional, diaristic storytelling with a dainty emotional palette; opting for delicate embellishments over grand gestures. You hear all about the girl who grew up in a market town, enveloped by countryside; pensive reflections that spotlight her family, friends and flames. And certainly the backdrop - wonky electro-pop with a nostalgia point for early 2010’s indie-balladry - is nourishing enough to command harmony between production and poetry.

Her 2021 EP, The Walls Are Way Too Thin, spoke to the confounding nature of growing up - rooted in the places we leave behind and the new environments we acclimatise to. Like wading through tangled lights in a sea of mist, Holly mines the beauty to be found in uncharted waters; the ubiquitous risk of drowning. The result is minimal alt-pop casting influence from Bon Ivor, The 1975 and The Cure.

Similarly, her new offering - written with longtime friend and collaborator Rob Milton - is a coming-of-age tale, pieced together during trips through soulless hotel rooms while touring the globe last year. Clocking in shy of 40 minutes; Holly is sounding confident. “Turn my voice up”, she demands on the album’s title track as vocal manipulations stutter ear-to-ear. Lyrics soaked in the reluctant optimism 20-somethings feel when making a decision, knowing they’ll relapse moments later. “I think it’s going to be alright,” she reminds herself.

‘Into Your Room’ is a warm, but brooding lead single from the record. Perhaps, Holly at her most hopelessly romantic. The confidence which oozed off the title track replaced abruptly by an intense feeling of self-doubt. Not for Holly the fictitious scribblings of perfection and stability - not here. Humberstone explains that she wrote the song to capture her guilt from not being present in a new relationship - an anxious love and attachment which only grows upon reflection. If the record’s script is chaos, Holly recites it, turbulently.

Holly Humberstone’s ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ is a delicate soundtrack for winter reflection Holly Humberstone’s ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ is a delicate soundtrack for winter reflection
Holly Humberstone’s ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ is a delicate soundtrack for winter reflection

On ‘Cocoon’, Humberstone is in sonic harmony with her previous output. Her gentle but commanding, layered vocals are mixed with a hint of reverb, gliding along a galloping beat as she captures a hazy vignette of adolescent love. Her advert for infatuation almost sells, but the hook leaves much to be desired. On the other hand, ‘Kissing in Swimming Polls’ - much like Fearless-era Taylor Swift - is well-placed to soundtrack fairy-tale flicks of the 00s. It is candy-cane sweet, kitschy (in the best way) and when the soaring guitars and additional vocals burst in... Lord.

The penultimate ‘Girl’ sees Holly diverge into a more conventional pop lane. A steamy, after-hours vocal performance as she croons “I want to be on your body, I want to pirouette with you”. The production is synth-heavy, bouncing and breathing in tandem. It’s a stylistic avenue waiting to be explored. Again, Humberstone leads into her pop sensibilities on ‘superbloodmoon’. Recorded with fellow Darkroom signee d4vdthe pair yearn over past connections, set to an ear-worming guitar loop. There’s no overwriting or complication here, just songwriting speaking for itself.

Two bug bares nag at this remarkably consistent album. One is that, back-end tracks such as ‘Elvis Impersonators’ and ‘Lauren’, get lost in the swathes of atmospheric neon-pop. Another, which paddles with the same ore, is that the record might not be sonically diverse enough for some listeners - despite the lovely touches of vocoder-driven interludes spliced throughout.

Paint My Bedroom Black works best when Holly’s writing resembles diaristic daydreaming, as on ‘Room Service’. Holly tells a story about two people escaping the outside world, finding intoxicating intimacy in each other’s company. Her voice warbles about time suspending and the muzzled excitement of love, old and new. The TV drones in the background as the pair lose sleep and strike off another day in the calendar. There are no grand gestures here, just an ordinary and habitual tribute to family, friends and flames.

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