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‘Paint My Bedroom Black’ Review: Holly Humberstone Transforms Sadness into Song

5 Stars

Holly Humberstone released "Paint My Bedroom Black" on Oct. 13.
Holly Humberstone released "Paint My Bedroom Black" on Oct. 13. By Courtesy of Holly Humberstone / Interscope / Polydor Records
By Makenna J. Walko, Contributing Writer

In her first studio album, “Paint My Bedroom Black,” Holly Humberstone wears her heart on her sleeve: bleeding, black and blue, and beneath the hum of dreamy synths and emotion-laden vocals, Humberstone sounds nothing short of breath-taking.

Coming off of a whirlwind year opening first for hit indie artist Girl in Red and then for pop’s buzziest sensation, Olivia Rodrigo, Humberstone has experienced skyrocketing fame and all the ups and downs that come with it. The 23-year-old British singer-songwriter grapples with the reality of a dream come true in a debut album that doesn’t shy away from its gritty dark side.

Reflecting on the album in an interview with Variety, Humberstone said,“You have really high highs and really low lows, when you get into your hotel room at night and you’re like, ‘Where am I?’ And then it’s silent and you’re alone with your thoughts. The doom starts to creep in, and that’s when the songs start.”

Rather than trying to escape “the doom,” Humberstone embraces it. In turns heart-breaking and heart-broken, “Paint My Bedroom Black” is an intimate exploration of guilt, fame, love, and what it means to lose — and find — yourself. The album is unabashedly melancholic, but that is perhaps its most winning trait: Humberstone is starkly vulnerable even when the truth is not easy to face.

This attitude is best encapsulated by the outro of the song “Ghost Me,” a brief audio clip in which the speaker quotes the SpongeBob SquarePants line, “I was born with paper skin and bones made out of glass. Every day I wake up and I shatter my ankles,” and adds, “That’s how I feel at the moment.”

It’s a kind of vulnerability that is startling, but consistent with the commitment to authenticity that has underlined Humberstone’s work since her first EP, “Falling Asleep At the Wheel.”

Listeners see this honest confrontation with her ghosts, guilt, and growing pains in the electro-pop song “Antichrist,” where Humberstone asks, “Am I the Antichrist? / How do I sleep at night? / Just need to escape my mind.” With painstakingly direct lyrics drenched in emotional intimacy, Humberstone shoulders the weight of a broken relationship and grapples with how to move forward knowing you’ve hurt someone you loved. Her candor is refreshing, set to a buzzing background beat that makes the song an inescapable earworm.

In “Elvis Impersonators,” Humberstone revisits another theme that has been recurrent throughout her work: family. Her first release, “Deep End,” which came out in 2020, touched on her close relationship with her sisters, and “Elvis Impersonators” returns to this bond with Humberstone’s signature notes of melancholy. “I miss your bones,” Humberstone sings, her longing practically tangible. A love letter to a sister an ocean away, the song is a touching and powerful exploration of what it means to miss someone who feels like a part of you.

The album slows down for its most stripped, bass-heavy ballad, “Kissing in Swimming Pools.” A departure from the blazing synths that underscore most of the album, the song is a slow-burn, equal parts wistful and tender. This expert interweaving of shades of emotional intimacy is undeniably evocative. Humberstone sings, “I want to be the one who gets to fix you, honey,” and “You look heavenly, in this shade of blue.” On an album full of masterful song-writing, this track still manages to stand out as one of Humberstone’s best, its confessional tone quietly moving.

Humberstone brings the album to a close with acoustic track “Room Service,” a comforting, soft-hearted tribute to friendship and hope. She has a way of crafting lyrics that leverages simplicity and directness to cut deep, and this song showcases that talent. “Someday we’ll look around to see we lived another year,” she sings. “I’ll fill the calendar with plans for you, my dear.”

The song represents a summation of the complexity at the heart of the album: Even as Humberstone dives deep into pain and guilt while embracing confusion and chaos, “Paint My Bedroom Black” never quite devolves into hopelessness. There are undercurrents of melancholy, but also longing, love, hope, and devastating desire. Humberstone experiments with light, dazzling synths that elevate her lyrics and draw out the energy and vibrant emotion at the heart of the album. Many of the album’s songs will leave listeners unsure whether they want to dissolve into a pool of tears, or get up and dance.

To put it simply, sadness should not be as fun to sing along to as Humberstone makes it.

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