Helene Greenwood shares more with Radiohead members Jonny and Colin Greenwood than just a surname. Her falsetto has been compared to that of Thom Yorke, and she herself has expressed the band’s influence on her music: “Sometimes I go in a complete Radiohead bubble – Thom Yorke’s voice is so plaintive and raw and he seems to feel so much,” she confesses. Her music and voice bear similarities to a great many artists, but she has managed to do more than just borrowing styles, always retaining her own personality. Three years after her folk-pop debut ‘Collectable You’, she returns with a new album titled ‘Exquisitely Hopeless’, which sees her developing both her sound and the conceptual themes behind it. The London-based singer-songwriter’s sophomore album is a beautiful blend of jazz influences and ethereal vocals with a dream folk appeal, marked by a noticeable shift towards more alluringly mystical, atmospheric and ambitious songwriting.
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The album deals with the restrictions of domestic life as a woman and the need to escape from it. Influenced by Jonathan Glazer’s overlooked art house film ‘Under the Skin’, she notes that “like this character we can all feel trapped inside our own skin at times.” Single and opener ‘This is the News Today’ flows nicely with its floating melodies, and the jazz instrumentation becomes richer as the track builds up. Despite its ostensibly conventional form, the music is more than just compelling, as is evident in the eccentric Julia Holter-esque sax solo towards the end of the song. It’s as if she’s slowly trying to experiment with the idea of breaking conventions with her music as well, and the lyrics follow: “Reaching out to touch the birds flying past,” she repeats, her soaring vocals mimicking this aerial journey as she cries for freedom. On the track ‘Flat Roof House’, influenced by artist Pipolotti Rist’s description of a flat-roofed house, the electronic elements and distorted vocals enhance the exotic, dreamlike atmosphere of the song.
Staying on the land of dreams, the mysterious and atmospheric ‘Dream Horses’ contrasts the ambient-like, otherworldly instrumentals with the clarity of Greenwood’s earthy voice, which echoes singers like Joanna Newsom. The verses on ‘Crystal Vase’ are slightly poppier but just as eccentric and Kate Bush-influenced, though the track quickly returns to the ominous key and string arrangements that it started out with, and builds up into a mix of nightmarish progressions and insane vocals that sound like they came straight out of a Japanese horror film.
Developing this haunting mood, the tracks ‘Exquisitely Hopeless’ and ‘Marina Marina’ feature a beguiling, consistent bass line and mesmerizing vocal harmonies. The next set of tracks is somewhat less dark. On the cover of Dionne Warwick’s ‘I Say A Little Prayer’, Greenwood maintains her dreamy style, and this makes the track seem less out of place, while ‘Chorale’ is a wonderful closing track, with its slow, delicate piano melodies.
Ultimately, Helene Greenwood finds solace in the world of the imagination, and her effort is exquisitely hopeful.
‘Exquisitely Hopeless’ is out now via Washaway Records.