- Album Review: Bryde - Like An Island - 8/108/10
She has managed to transfer the mellifluous elegance of earlier acoustic work into a grittier electric led sound, whilst losing none of the impact of her striking voice.
‘Bryde’ is the project of Sarah Howells, who is also part of the acoustic act ‘Paper Aeroplanes’. Since branching out on her own, she has released two EPs and developed a reputation as an excellent performer with a sharp eye for self-observational lyrics. Her debut album ‘Like An Island’ serves to cement that assessment. Across its eleven tracks ‘Bryde’ has crafted a multifaceted record that encompasses delicate introspective songs alongside, real powerhouse numbers. She has managed to transfer the mellifluous elegance of earlier acoustic work into a grittier electric led sound, whilst losing none of the impact of her striking voice.
‘Like An Island’ has a pervasive interest in the discrepancies between the need to present an idealised front and the underlying reality of insecurity and vulnerability. The acute commentary that Bryde’s lyrics trade in encapsulate this intriguing balance. It is a dynamic which is mirrored in the willingness to shift from more downbeat sounding accompaniment to heavy riff-laden noise in the space of a couple of bars.
The opening track ‘To Be Brave’ explores the pressures of attempting to maintain the veneer of stability. “These are the screenshots this is the vision we lived, to keep on smiling, to keep on smiling through it.” There is a clear invocation of the use of social media as a means to reassure ourselves and others of our value. This is a theme that is referenced visually in the accompanying video as captioned moments are shown to be at odds with their surroundings. Musically the song’s structure is somewhat irregular, building up from the gentle guitar part and breathy vocals into a much more forceful sounding finish. The accompanying percussion gradually becomes more prominent as the song progresses. The sonic arc, in keeping with the increasingly urgent assertion that all is well, ends with a frantic build-up of guitar.
‘Less’ picks up the darkness that the first track ends on and runs with it. The falsity explored previously is expanded upon with dry wit, “there’s no need to be sincere I’m just so happy to be here.” The song introduces the dynamic of guitar-heavy, amped up chorus set against a more subdued verse part. There is a feeling of menace that underlines this song as vocals veer between a sneering tone and earnest sounding affront.
Similarly, ‘Peace’ begins with a sparse almost electronica feel, drawing on the atmospherics of ‘The XX’. This then changes into a much more rock-inflected chorus, which again demonstrates a great ear for the effective deployment of a quick transition. The singing switches effortlessly between these two registers. There is an echo of the delivery of Dolores O’Riordan at work here as the intense vocals meld with the heavier riff to good effect.
The great strength of this record is Bryde’s ability to vent her spleen with a moody, grunge flecked sensibility on one track, then switch seamlessly to much sparser qualities on another. ‘Euphoria’ introduces a piano into the accompanying instrumentation, as echoed percussive notes contribute to a sombre musical backdrop. This creates a nice juxtaposition between lyrics addressing ostensibly euphoric feeling and the overall brooding aesthetic of the sound. ‘Desire’ is built around a solid central guitar groove, the muscularity of which is matched by some tight stickwork. The song itself takes a look at the lengths to which people will go in pursuit of desirous intentions, “we tie ourselves up and we tear ourselves down for desire.”
The final two tracks are orchestrated in a much lighter fashion. ‘Transparent’ has a picked guitar part with some lush harmonic notes which really compliment the lightly played shuffle beat. The vocals are particularly strong on this track, at times infused with the feel of a slight country inflection, at others echoed and supported by gentle backing vocals. This impetus towards folkier arrangement is pursued further on ‘Steady Heart’. Once again Bryde’s voice is really allowed space to showcase its range. This is a sincere and graceful track, no less interested in the duality of strength and weakness than the opener but sounding much less claustrophobic. It is an excellent way to round off a fine collection of varied songs.
‘Like An Island’ is a highly accomplished album from an artist who very clearly knows what they’re doing. The contemplative lyricism, powerful voice and deft guitar work, which ranges from gently picked harmonies to full-bodied riffs make a for a compelling combination. ‘Bryde’ is attracting an increasing amount of attention for her unwavering commitment to forging her own path. The album is released on her own label Seahorse Music, formed to champion like-minded female artists. She is also embarking on a twenty-nine date European tour over April and May. If her live set is as well executed as this record it will absolutely be worth checking out.