Jeremy and Samantha have new albums out. Jeremy Warmsley released A Year, his first solo album in ten years, at the end of 2019; Samantha Whates’ Waiting Rooms, released back in November, is the first solo album she’s done since 2011.
I’ve been following Jeremy and Samantha for nearly 15 years* – Jeremy, since he put a demo of his song “Five Verses” up on MySpace in about 2005 – Samantha, since we played together at the Slaughtered Lamb in the same year – both around the time I started writing and performing music on my own. Since then, Jeremy has had a career as a singer-songwriter, as a film/game composer, and as one half of the band Summer Camp. Samantha has been creating beautiful sounds with her voice, both as a bandleader/soloist, and with her collaborators in Pica Pica and elsewhere. Last year, we all released albums about time, place and space, and so I wanted to use this occasion to bathe in a light broth of musical kinship with a couple of musicians I think are intensely talented, and probably a little bit underrated. (In case you hadn’t heard me mention it, in 2018 I recorded 40 songs – and one instrumental – from locations on the road in North America, South East Asia, Australia and Europe, and released them as a collection in 2019 – it’s called Year of The Bird. You can get it wherever you get music, and some places you don’t).
Jeremy Warmsley’s A Year was written and recorded through 2019, one song a month, and gathered together as a collection, with each song named after a month (beginning in January), telling the story (spoilers) of the passage from loneliness to elation to fucking up and back to loneliness – the arc of the spark and dissolution of a relationship. The music is designed to join seamlessly from December back to January, suggesting the protagonist being stuck in a loop, predetermined to live the same Groundhog Year again and again, or at least until his twenties are over, maybe? Or maybe his thirties or forties, or maybe never. This contrasts with other “story of a relationship” records – Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast, 20 years old this year, springs to mind – where the relationship seems to be central and significant – the course of true love gone awry. That A Year’s narrator is may have experienced – or will experience – multiple repeats of this year doesn’t make his emotional highs less high or his lows less low.
Samantha Whates recorded her album Waiting Rooms** in spaces across the UK – train stations, ferry terminals, Scotland, Essex, Peckham. It’s a guerrilla operation that you might expect to sound like a folk version of garage punk; in reality, it’s so rich with a rotating line up of musicians bringing the spaces to life, it feels smooth and polished and full of shape and depth, even when there’s electrical buzz or the sound of a train passing – those are visitors hoping to join in with the performance. They’re largely welcomed into the ensemble. It’s a surprisingly varied record for one that had to set up, travelling player style, in a new “studio” each time – at various points, clarinets, violas, lutes and recorders joining the core of bass, voice, and acoustic guitar. Samantha herself is a wonderful technical singer – emphatic and soaring, emotional and grounded. She’s the sort of singer I’d like to be.
Which is not to overlook what a great singer Jeremy is – breathy intimacy in bleak January giving way to poppy exuberance as A Year progresses. Samantha and Jeremy have a technical precision in common, both in their singing and in the way they compose and arrange their music. In each case, this proficiency is tempered with their own idiosyncracies – Jeremy’s wonderful gift with a vocal hook, his appetite for a banging beat, his lyrical drumming and Orca-like slide guitar; Samantha’s personal lyrics that jump from poetic and abstract to direct and arresting, her gift for a chord change that can take the wind out of your sails and cloud up the sky of a bright and breezy day.
Year of the Bird contains more than sketches, but they have the deliberate feel of something that it was vital I get out the way as quickly as possible – sometimes that works in song’s favour, sometimes not – but either way they were detailed pencil drawings, even if I fancy myself a decent draftsperson. Escher worked a lot in pencil, so I’m not beating myself up, and after all, there’s not really a way to make 40 sculptures in marble in less than twelve months. And I’m not sure I have the patience to be a decent sculptor. Conversely, A Year and Waiting Rooms feel like they’ve had the chance to erode and be chiselled, telling different and deeper stories about particular times and particular places.
*musically, rather than physically