I’m a sucker for the combination of eccentric pop with progressive folk/rock. There are several artists out there who do it well, and Ms Amy Birks is one of them, whether through Beatrix Players or through her solo output. Her new solo album, called In Our Souls, released recently on April 8th.
Amy hails from London, and I originally started listening to her work through Beatrix Players in 2017. Apparently, Beatrix Players is coming back to us soon, but Amy was able to endeavor out on her own two feet, too, with a pair of great solo records. There are various guest spots here, too, though I was unable to find the list. I should mention that three of the songs take their lyrics from poems by the Bronte Sisters.
I’ve noted the differences in sound between this album and her previous. Both of them are chamber pop with prog rock influences. However, this album is markedly more somber, even darker. It also features more folk tendencies, and solo violin is found throughout the record, causing the album to feel highly personal. In fact, I would say this album is more orchestral in that fashion, with each song feeling more like an exquisite piece of music, rather than singer-songwriter fare. I would also say that this record isn’t nearly as catchy or even accessible as the debut because of this, but that seems to be the point.
In Our Souls is an intense experience lyrically. On the debut, Amy offered a song called “Say Something” that really captured my heart and head. The lyrics were an ode to women who have been assaulted and abused, and as melodic and good as the song is, the lyrics are what really stand out for me. That format basically covers this entire new album, as well. While apparently Amy wanted to focus more on music and less on lyrics this time, this album still bleeds red lyrically. From the title track to “Elsa” to “Brothers” and more, this album tackles very difficult situations and relationships, paying homage to these people and also offering hope. The title track, “A Death Scene”, and “The Dream” are the songs that use Bronte Sisters poetry, but they fit in so well with the rest of the album.
As you might imagine, the album can feel pretty reserved and bleak at times. With such strong words on display, it’s a wonder that the music can be a focus at all. Yet, the music here is quite strong and always lavish and beautiful. I’ve noted, too, that Amy seems to sing in a somewhat more subdued tone, not necessarily in range, but in almost a muted form of theatre, accentuating the instantly recognizable timbre of her lower range.
And so I find myself both admiring this album, while also preferring to listen more often to the debut. If you were to ask me which is the stronger album, I would say In Our Souls, but which one am I going to throw on while doing some work? All That I Am & All That I Was is still a very well balanced record with some darker spots that makes it pretty interesting as a whole. In Our Souls is fairly dark all the way through, and while I love that sort of thing, it is more of an emotional investment.
My favorite songs here are the title track, “Elsa”, “Brothers”, “The Woman in White”, “Living in Sin”, and “Cannot Contain”. The title track opens the album with a frilly, melodic air; I like the poetry and its feelings of nostalgia and story. I should note that the album ends with a couple different versions of this track, too, including the instrumental version. I actually think revisiting the melody from this track adds something to the album as a whole, so I always listen to it.
“Elsa” is a heartache of a track with a superb chorus and overall atmosphere. It feels both difficult and completely free and natural. “Brothers” is an interesting piece because it has some guitar in it, more than any other song. It feels more “rock”, but not rock at all at the same time. Violin is the real driving force on it, and the song itself feels quite abstract in structure. “The Woman in White” is the sort of song I love from Amy: shadowy and haunting with whispers of this and that. It comes off as an eerie mystery, sad and maybe even Gothic.
“Living in Sin” is a song I find myself humming often. The song really displays Amy’s lower range and unique tone, and the lyrics feel like a story that desperately needs to be told. “Cannot Contain” is a great closer, too, because it is perhaps the most upbeat song on the album. Hints of guitar and folk music swirl subtly in its mix, and emotions swell with potency and purpose. Again, I like to listen to the instrumental title track to close the album: it feels nostalgic and meaningful to me.
Ms Amy Birks continues to prove her writing and poetic chops. In Our Souls is perhaps less accessible than her debut, but it is more of a deep dive into the real world, into starkly human conditions. I really appreciate that and all the subtle beauty that this album radiates, especially the sense of sincerity that comes with it.
Find Ms Amy Birks online: