Some things are worth the wait. When Holly Humberstone was named the recipient of the BRITs Rising Star award back in December 2021 – and then appeared on every ones-to-watch list going a month later – it seemed like things could be about to snowball for her. They have, but she’s also shown restraint and stayed true to who she is as an artist, waiting for her debut album to be just right rather than rush it out with undercooked songs that don’t represent her.
‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ arrives nearly two years after that victory and, largely, it is just right. It’s a cohesive statement of the Grantham-born singer-songwriter’s artistry – vivid, dark, almost made for sharing confessions under the safety of night – and full of brilliant, electronic-tinged pop songs.
Of course, having received such a groundswell of attention early on meant that Humberstone had to write these songs on the road and between seemingly never-ending tours. It’s a lifestyle that has fed into her creations, these songs allowing her space to process the extreme highs and lows of a life on tour and all the emptiness and guilt that comes with that. On ‘Ghost Me’, she begs her friends not to forget her, recalling “singing ‘Angels’ at karaoke on the most chaotic night” before throwing down her challenge: “And if you try to ghost me and quit being in my life / Don’t you dare.”
The soft acoustic strums of ‘Room Service’ offer a deal to those friends – when this whirlwind pauses, Humberstone will bring flowers and a calendar packed full of plans. ‘Elvis Impersonators’, minimal in layers and melancholy in tone, changes its target to one of the artist’s sisters, now living in Japan. “I can’t be without you,” she sighs longingly, depicting her sibling with “cherry blossom in your hair” in the early hours in Tokyo.
The 23-year-old is at her best when it feels like she’s fighting for something. On ‘Lauren’, that’s an old friendship to be revived, even if maybe that person shouldn’t have trusted “a girl who sleeps on a mattress on the floor / And has a thousand unread messages”. The sombre ‘Antichrist’ finds her fighting with herself, regretful over the way she treated an ex and wondering: “Am I the antichrist? / How do I sleep at night?”
Best of all, though, are ‘Flatlining’ and ‘Kissing In Swimming Pools’. Entirely opposite from each other, the former battles the spectre of an old lover over electronics collaged to mimic a heart monitor. The latter, meanwhile, fights for a more positive thing – to be able to spend as much time as possible with a new love. In it, Humberstone details those first rushes of romance in stunning, relatable, small detail: “I’ll steal a glance as you’re singing your heart out to something embarrassing / I wanna know if you think about me that way.”
The star’s lyricism is the crowning glory of ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’, her descriptions often supremely evocative. On ‘Into Your Room’, she projects herself standing outside someone’s window in the rain “with a freshly ripped human heart from my ribcage and a boombox”. One song later, on the brighter-sounding ‘Cocoon’, she likens her inability to get out of bed and tend to chores to becoming “a taxidermy version of myself”. At times, though, she does become repetitive – there are several references across the record to needing to be next to someone or wanting to fix them.
As debut albums go, Humberstone’s is a triumph – one that perfectly captures her sound and distils her experience of musician life in a way that doesn’t make you want to pull out a tiny violin. ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ is majestic and should serve as the first step in a very illustrious career.Buy ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ on vinyl for £25.85