Sometimes you listen to an album that single-handedly raises the bar for what we should expect from new music. However, those moments don’t usually come from an artist’s debut EP. On Falling Asleep at the Wheel, Holly Humberstone presents us with an emotionally deep, sonically mature, and thoroughly enjoyable album.
On one hand, this should not come as a surprise. The 20-year-old artist has already amassed over 20 million streams, garnered international press, and played to big crowds at Glastonbury and on tour with Lewis Capaldi. However, as you listen to the album, you get the immediate feel that her early success is just scratching the surface.
With topics of mental health and relationships presented with vivid emotional clarity, it’s almost too easy to draw comparisons to Phoebe Bridgers. Yet, on some tracks there’s a lively edge reminiscent of the more ballad-forward tracks from Billie Eilish; on others, the beat-forward-yet-restrained-hook we often hear in Lorde’s offerings. The songs feel raw when Humberstone is the most exposed; vibrant when she’s upbeat. However, that is only possible thanks to her gift at knowing what she wants to say and how she wants to make you feel when you hear it.
The album simply wows on its first three tracks. Haunting vocals are accompanied with minimal electric guitar as Humberstone attempts to dispel the mental health shadows afflicting her sister on “Deep End.” Next, with a noticeable production boost in the way of an electronic beat and ripples of synth, “Falling Asleep at the Wheel” flirts with becoming a party banger, but remains restrained, keeping the song’s reflective lyrics on point. Finally, we get Humberstone’s latest single, “Overkill.” Musically, it’s a complete change up from the first two songs, with a stronger guitar riff and noticeable drumbeat. However, the smoothness and expressiveness of the vocals keep pace with the more up-tempo work.
With so much depth from the start, one could easily overlook the rest of the offerings. That would be a mistake. “Vanilla” is a pure pop track that could hold its own with any radio chart-topper. “Drop Dead” has enough anthemic power that it could be a single all its own to support an entirely separate album. Fortunately, Humberstone is clearly embracing her craft, which results in an album of substance from beginning to end.
Falling Asleep at the Wheel feels like it comes from an artist with a history of hitmaking albums. The sheer fact that we get this work as a debut should excite anyone that loves the pursuit of art in music. But more than that, the album’s mix of emotional clarity and chill soundscape make it perfect for this contemplative summer.
Featured image photo credit: Phoebe Fox