Like finding a dollar bill on the ground, like the rainbow after a summer afternoon rainfall, like the perfect ointment to a wound that won’t heal; as soft as a forehead kiss, as captivating as a cloudless night sky, as soothing as a spoonful of honey running down your throat when that brief rainfall soaked your clothes, and you caught a cold… Holly Humberstone is all of that.
The pandemic turned days into nights and nights into days, in what felt like an endless cycle of nothingness. In those monotonous months, I took the time to dust off the shelves of my room — for every book I picked up, I made sure that the music playing in the background was fitting. I found that Humberstone’s music never necessitated me putting down my book to skip a song.
Fast forward two years later, there I was — second row, close enough to mouth “thank you,” but far enough to still be a fan among a predominantly young and female crowd. On the 12th night of the “if i could make it go quiet” tour led by girl in red, Humberstone put on a show superior to that of the average opener. In the heat of excitement mixed with excessive clothing from a prolonged winter, I was ready to sing along to every lyric.
The concert began with “Overkill,” a song off of her first EP. In the confines of a one-man setup, Humberstone emulated the performance style of artists such as Tash Sultana or Bon Iver. A pair of light blue jeans, a ‘90s tee and a white Stratocaster were enough to make Humberstone a magnet to the hundreds of eyes in a sold out Majestic Theater.
The 22-year-old artist stunned the crowd with every movement — swaying gracefully between two keyboards and three mics, blending the rawness of her sweet tone with melodies distorted by a vocoder in a manner evocative of Imogen Heap. With the click of a pad, a backing track became the ground from which the seeds of her essence bloomed.
Lyrics pickled with a bitterness familiar to adolescent heartbreak, friendship fallout and self-found solace, Humberstone becomes the intermediary between one’s unspoken thoughts and the comfort of saying nothing at all. She writes songs for someone else, yet you’re left with the conviction that they could well have been made for you. A perfectly tailored suit, a minutely planned day, finally growing into the shoes you inherited from your older sister.
Humberstone went on to sing an unreleased song before explaining that she had spent a nauseous, restless night after eating a salad from a deli in Toronto. Despite the incident, Humberstone’s eight songs left the audience wanting more.
To curb that hunger, she stated that she would send a secret demo of an unreleased song titled “Room Service” to anyone who messaged her on Instagram. A link to a SoundCloud song with under 2,000 streams seemed not only a sweet treat but also a good marketing strategy — I am positive at least 50 of those are mine, and it has only been a day.
With her soft-spoken, endearing voice, Humberstone found the perfect balance between linking tunes consecutively and making small confessions about her songs. She explained that her debut release, “Deep End,” had been an attempt to appease her younger sister, who was struggling at the time. I myself have found comfort in this song in times of distress.
Hearing the line, “I’ll be your medicine if you let me / give you reason to get out of bed / sister I’m trying to hold off the lightning / and help you escape from your head” live sent a warm shiver down my spine. I seemed to not be the only one who got emotional, as the girl in front of me said, “I am crying, and she hasn’t even started singing.”
Leaving the venue after the concert ended felt bittersweet — still a stranger to Detroit, that night left me feeling even closer to her latest release, “London is Lonely,” a song Humberstone wrote about leaving her childhood in the English countryside and moving to the “Big Smoke.” She stated in an interview with NME, “London felt so intense, and although there were so many people around me, I felt even more isolated and like I didn’t belong.” For the entire rainy bus ride home, humming her melodies reassured me that I could always find a piece of me in her music.
Painfully honest lyrics will always be my favorite way of self-sabotage. There’s nothing quite like feeling comprehended, like hearing through beautiful melodies what you wouldn’t allow yourself to even word. Humberstone has won this year’s “Rising Star” Brit award, and I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before she herself sells out the Majestic Theater. Until then, do yourself a favor and listen.
Daily Arts Writer Cecilia Duran can be reached at email@example.com.