Having spent last month in Manchester with Greg Larkin and pootling around St Helens with Silver Story, it is time for me to once more jump into the Uncharted Territory camper van. This month, we are heading down the M6 to Camden to review Exquisitely Hopeless, the second album from Dover born singer-songwriter Helene Greenwood, released in October 2016. As an artist, Helene is the poster child for genre-free album reviews. To try and pigeon hole her work would be nigh on sacrilegious. She is an artist that has conquered an almost complete fluidity of expression, allowing the music she creates to fit around her message rather than the oft-seen opposite.
The themes covered in the album are diverse and often approached in an abstract fashion, Greenwood gradually leading you down the rabbit hole of her visions. Flat Roof House is a song of the contrasts of domesticity – the unpredictability of a child against clinical white kitchen surfaces, the relative calm of a house against the rush of traffic outside. It is microanalysis of memory, cast against a floaty gossamer backdrop. Crystal Vase is a song that, at times, feels just as claustrophobic as its subject matter as it views the world with a distorted refraction. It's motif of seeing life from a distance is echoed from This Is The News Today, a lamentation of perpetual monotony lived out beneath a sky of free birds.
The original tracks are interrupted only once for an exceptional cover of Aretha Franklin's I Say A Little Prayer. Greenwood's rendition is hauntingly beautiful – a radio left on in another room perhaps, the light piano touches and drifting vocals reverberating ethereally. Closing track Chorale serves to contextualise everything that has gone before – just as we might hyper-analyse the minutiae of our world, our very existence is minutiae in itself when juxtaposed with the life cycle of the Earth.
As is hinted at in Madame Marina, Exquisitely Hopeless is a meticulously-rendered dolls house of an album. Each track is its own room and has been furnished to the highest of standards. Start with the underlay – be it a smooth saxophone, lightly brushed drums or the gentlest tease of a double bass. Next comes a vibrant carpet of noise, ever-changing, instrumentally restless, an endlessly shifting mass of textures and sparkle. The rooms are then furnished with words, poetic lyrics that flutter on the breeze like the petals of a dandelion clock, rooted in our world but with one foot in another, far more mystical, place.
To seal the magic, Greenwood breathes life into her creation - her immaculate voice often bridging the divide between speech and song, a hypnotic instrument in its own right. The result is an album that sounds unlike anything I've heard before – gorgeously fragmented, constantly surprising, never compromising, music that has echoed life by abandoning structure and regimented form and it sounds so much the better for it.
Lyric Of The Month
“We live where the dolls revolve and//Swimmy swim swim horses call”
Beauty in the everyday,
Sets it to magic
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