Holly Humberstone has always used music to try and make sense of the world around her. She started writing songs when she was still in primary school, creating pretty, piano-led tracks about fancying boys in the year above on the family piano before graduating to messier, meatier subjects that were just as honest.
Her debut single ‘Deep End’ wrestled with the best way to be there for someone going through a tough time while jaunty breakout track ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’ pleads for some excitement in a relationship that’s just going through the motions.
These intimate admissions earnt her a slot on the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury 2019 ahead of a support tour with Lewis Capaldi. Just as she was finding her footing though, lockdown hit, and her quiet, introspective, reassuring music suddenly found a global audience. A pair of EPs saw her regularly compared to Lorde and Billie Eilish, with BRIT Awards, massive headline gigs and support tours with next-gen popstars Girl In Red and Olivia Rodrigo quickly following. She was very much a superstar in the making.
Despite that connection with so many people also going through it, Holly regularly found herself alone after shows, doom-scrolling on social media and worrying about her family back home in Grantham. It’s where lush debut album Paint My Bedroom Black was born.
“This album is an exploration of the two sides of myself that coexist,” Holly said, announcing the record earlier this year. “One side, the introvert who wants to board the windows up and shut the world out, writing about wanting to escape my surroundings and the confusion of life on the road last year. The other side of me, the extrovert, writing about a budding relationship, deep connections and love.”
Despite that intense to-and-fro, as well as the growing pressure to live up to all that early hype, Paint My Bedroom Black is a fiercely confident debut. The title track kicks things off perfectly, displaying a defiant desire for fresh starts over shimmering synths, with the song both escapist and confrontational. Then comes the swelling ‘Into Your Room’, which wears its bruised heart very much on its sleeve.
There’s a hint of venom in anti-breakup anthem ‘Ghost Me’ while ‘Elvis Impersonators’ is tender and warm. Whatever the energy, though, there’s a fearlessness throughout the record. Whether it’s the rose-tinted want of ‘Girl’ or the bruised struggle of ‘Cocoon’, Holly has no problem saying what’s on her mind.
With quotes from SpongeBob SquarePants, stories about comfort-watching episodes of The O.C. and a giddy sense of catharsis to go alongside the moments of self-loathing and angst, there’s a lot of joy to be found across Paint My Bedroom Black. It’s perhaps best displayed on the D4VD-featuring ‘Superbloodmoon’ which finds intimate, heartfelt connection in sprawling loneliness.
Musically as well, Holly has stepped things up across Paint My Bedroom Black. Raw, delicate bedroom pop still provides the foundations for the album’s thirteen tracks but each one is pulled and polished in a new direction. ‘Lauren’ flirts with ‘90s alt-rock; ‘Baby Blues’ is a haunted, atmospheric number that finds strength in sparse soundscapes; and the rumbling ‘Antichrist’ is fuelled by stadium pop ambition, but isn’t afraid to get strange either. The whole thing is familiar but new, and leaves the door wide open for future evolutions.
Despite the title, Paint My Bedroom Black is a bold, vibrant debut that takes misery and twists it into something unifying. It’s grander than anything she’s done before, but loses none of its impact. Nearly four years after she first started releasing music, Holly Humberstone might still not be entirely sure of the world around her, but she knows the power of a great song.