With two EPs and a compilation album under her belt, Holly Humberstone returns with her alt-pop debut album, Paint My Bedroom Black. Written while she was on the road touring, the tracks range from a variety of emotions she felt, namely longing. Humberstone yearns for lost relationships, lovers, friends, and family who she can’t see while she’s away.
The title and first track of the album, “Paint My Bedroom Black,” is one that she believes sums up the whole album. While speaking on the Zach Sang Show, she says, “I feel like every little chance that I got going to the studio, I would just kind of wanna write about all of that stuff, all those feelings. It was just my favorite, so I wanted it to come first and I wanted it to be the title track.”
“And now I’m pulling out your driveway / Finally, I’m living, not surviving / And it’s funny you said I’d never have the guts / Well, suck it up / I’m gonna bottle up this feeling.”
With her melodic raspy voice, Humberstone sings about breaking up with your shitty ex and feeling more confident. The lyrics, over a catchy, upbeat synth beat, are about shutting everyone out and focusing on yourself. While Humberstone didn’t have anyone in mind while writing it, she still relates in the sense that it’s about reclaiming who you are and finding yourself.
On the opposite side of “Paint My Bedroom Black” is the third track, “Cocoon.” Disguised as a fun pop track with heavy guitars, Humberstone sings about depression and leaning on someone to pass the time with. Similarly, in “Antichrist,” Humberstone opens up about her own faults in a relationship she was in. As a songwriter, the English singer-songwriter is brutally honest about where she may have gone wrong, showing a great level of self-awareness.
Speaking on the track with NME, she says, “‘Antichrist’ is about a breakup I went through a couple of years ago. I genuinely cared about this person and wanted so badly to make it work, but I knew something wasn’t right and my heart wasn’t in it. I knew that I was inevitably going to have to hurt the person I wanted so much to love. At the time I wrote the song, I remember feeling like I was constantly letting those around me down. I basically felt like the worst person in the world.”
The muse for “Antichrist” makes an appearance again in the track “Flatlining.” Over thumpy drumbeats, the 23-year-old croons about the difficulties of moving on from a relationship when so much of it is still fresh on your mind. Incorporating heart monitor sounds, she intends for listeners to hear the anxiety in the percussion of the track so that they will also feel how she felt writing this song about being ambushed by old feelings. “We’ve got no chance of resuscitation / Romance I ripped from the pages / I’ll let you go through the stages / First kisses under the streetlight / Our greatest hits on repeat / I just can’t delete what it feels like.”
Humberstone also found inspiration in her best friend, Lauren, penning her two tracks — “Lauren” and the interlude, “Baby Blues.” With the track “Lauren,” the singer-songwriter longs to be with her friend and reassures her that she’ll be there when she needs her. Over a drum loop and dark chords, she sings, “So I put my fist through the wall / ‘Cause I’ve been falling too short / Say the word and I’ll call / Say the word and I’m coming back.” When it came to “Baby Blues,” Humberstone revealed that she incorporated her best friend’s voice note.
She explains to Apple Music, “I wrote this about her coming to visit—she’d come to visit me and then she’d left. I wanted to write about seeing her getting off the train and being across the zebra crossing from me and just getting to see somebody that I loved again. It was so simple. I got addicted to the demo—I thought it was perfect, this little snippet. A little breath.”
Similarly in “Elvis Impersonator,” Humberstone sings about missing her older sister, Emma, who lives in Japan for her studies. While she was on tour, the singer-songwriter visited Tokyo and spent time with her sister, which then inspired the lyrics for this track. Admitting this is the most personal song on the album, she says, “It’s hard being in a different state to your siblings sometimes. It was just too hard to get my head around her living a completely different life, to which I just had nothing to do with. I just wanted to write this song about that. Japan is such a cool and weird place. In the car, I saw one of these Elvis impersonators and I thought it was hilarious.”
Much of the album is about these feelings that Humberstone had while she was on the road and away from her loved ones. In the track “Ghost,” which she wrote about feeling neglected by her close family and friends while she was away, she speaks on the outro to explain how she’s feeling, “There’s this SpongeBob line, which I always think of. And it’s this guy, who’s really sad, and he goes: ‘I was born with paper skin and bones made out of glass Every day I wake up and I shatter my ankles’.”
Humberstone also delved into love and relationships in many of her tracks. In the single, “Into Your Room,” she apologizes to her partner and asks for another chance, expressing how much she loves them. “Without you, my soul is eternally doomed / You’re the center of this universe / My sorry ass revolves around you.”
She reveals to Apple Music, “A theme of this album is feeling like I was neglecting people at home and not being there for the people I wanted to be there for—and I wanted to turn those things into something that felt positive. It’s a love song about wanting to be close to someone. We were trying to get across an embrace of somebody after not having seen them for such a long time—[I was] proclaiming my love for people back home. The production is really upbeat and sparkly and shiny.”
Her raw, honest emotions shine through in the track “Kissing in Swimming Pools” as well where she wants a relationship to last and to keep falling in love with this person. Like Humberstone, this track is also one of my favorites. A love song, pure and simple, it uses guitar riffs and rich bass to draw the listener in.
The album closes on a much different note than the first track. “Room Service” is a single that she previously spoke about, saying, “There was this swelling feeling that I was growing apart from that world that I was missing so badly, and I just didn’t want to be forgotten. All I wanted to do was to get a hotel room with my best friend, lock the world out, and do stupid things like order room service.” Using folky melodies, Humberstone crafted this song as a love song for her loved ones.
Paint My Bedroom Black tells a story from beginning to end and listeners get a better understanding of who Humberstone is and where she’s headed as a singer-songwriter. With a mix of soft, acoustic to upbeat, synth-heavy songs, this album is engaging and captivating for listeners of this genre. Being her most vulnerable self yet, Humberstone put out a debut album that will help pave the way for the rest of her musical career.