Updated: Aug 20, 2020
Favorite Track: "Vanilla" Least Favorite Track: "Falling Asleep At The Wheel"
The wave of emerging female pop singers has been astonishing lately. Albums like Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers and WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? by Billie Eilish have consistently blown me away with their beautiful production and lowkey vocals, while Lianne La Havas and Sawayama have both respectively brought a new spunk to pop music, with rough, powerful voices that just hype me up. Naturally, I have been keeping my eye out for more new pop artists hitting the scene, and Holly Humberstone seems to be doing so in big ways. She has just released her debut EP, Falling Asleep At The Wheel, and has been featured in Spotify and Apple Music playlists, as well as having her face on the New York billboards, and this record is a good reason for her to be getting attention this early in her career.
From the minute I pressed play on the opening track “Deep End”, I felt a deep maturity from Holly. This track is a harrowing ballad about Holly giving all of herself to her sister to attempt to keep her out of a deep depression. The subject matter is tough, and you can hear the hurt in Holly’s voice. The beautiful nature of her delivery is wonderfully backed by light, slightly distorted electric guitar and some distant drums later in the song. Holly’s voice does remind me a bit of Taylor Swift on her most recent LP, Folklore, but Holly’s voice retains a bit more soul and youth to it. She shares the lowkey delivery of a Phoebe Bridgers or Stella Donnelly, but with a bit more of a mainstream pop appeal. We also get a taste of these styles very heavily on the track “Drop Dead”, which is a dramatic song about falling in love. This song’s lyrics are done tastefully and never feel run-of-the-mill, while the vocal lines on the chorus are fantastically mixed.
We then get the title track, which is easily my least favorite track on the record. This song feels way too mainstream in contrast with the rest of the EP, with thumping, dramatic pianos and a formulaic vocal line. The lyrics are sort of dime-a-dozen, as they recount falling in and out of love, and do little to catch my attention. There are a lot of electronic elements in the background, and the song constantly feels as though it is building up to something heavy and dramatic, but it never seems to reach its promised climax. I do like the distorted horns at the back end of the track, and I think they could have been used much earlier to add a bit more definition to the otherwise bland instrumental. I definitely don’t hate the song, but it does fall a little flat in contrast with some of the truly beautiful tracks on here.
“Overkill” is a bit more country influenced, almost sounding like a song I would blast over my speakers driving down a backroad. This song is about as typical in lyrical content as “Falling Asleep At The Wheel” but it is executed better vocally, as well as instrumentally. The busy synths at the back of the song are jarring, but are wonderfully offset by the smooth guitar melody at the forefront of the mix. We get a relatively similar treatment in tone on “Livewire”, but this track is much more ballad inspired. The vocal melody from Holly is absolutely gorgeous here, with some barebones piano and nothing else until the back half of the song, where it culminates into an ethereal mix of piano and heavily layered vocals that feels like the culmination we should have seen on the title track.
Finally we have the expertly executed “Vanilla”, which is my favorite on the record. This song has a lot of different experimental elements, with some moments almost sounding as though they could have come off a Charli XCX track, while others feel like something off of Dua Lipa’s newest record. The light guitar and synthetic drums fit very nicely with Holly’s breathy vocal delivery and makes for a super fun track that has me coming back to it again and again.
While nothing on Falling Asleep At The Wheel is completely blowing me away in the same fashion that Punisher did, this first outing from Holly shows tons of potential. While some songs may have felt samey and some lackluster instrumentals were chosen, Holly’s voice is standout and this record is a very solid first outing for an artist that I think could have quite a future in the pop landscape.