SHE CAME, we loved her, she left; she’s back again, after five years wholly outside the biz. Let’s really show her some love this time, because she’s a helluva talent.
I’m speaking of Sophie Jamieson, whose new EP, her second of the year, Release, is out on December 1st.
Sophie first graced our ears aged 22, with her Where EP on Folkroom; it’s a lofi folksy delight, swathed in reverb, with moments touching on shoegaze and that trademark vocal lilt and emotive little crack in her voice present and correct. In short, it was gorgeous. Maybe there was a little prescience of gathering clouds in the impressionistic “The Weight Comes”, on which Sophie sings of being picked up and carried down, being heavier than that. The resulting, deserved acclaim for the release led to support slots with the likes of Marika Hackman. Her star was rising.
However, the sessions for her follow-up ended badly; she couldn’t limn what she had planned. It wouldn’t come. Self-doubt led to darkness, a slide away from music and into a state of being unwell. She was gone, and it took her five years to return.
She’s 29 now, older, wiser, stronger; she announced her comeback with the Hammer EP in March. It showed a bolder Sophie, voice front and centre; more muscular guitars, electronic glitches and textures; but still an unflinching lyrical and vocal stance. The lead track was a slow burn with big six-string crescendos closer to Nadine Shah than the fragility of her debut. “Space Pt.2” reaches deep into her darkness, as those around her reach out, guitars crashing: “We’re all rooting for you”, the refrain.
Her new EP represents another leap forward, both in terms of confidence and achievement, despite the troubled circumstances of its conception.
“Release was written during one of the loneliest periods of my life,” she says: “Becoming disconnected from those close to me, I searched for connection blindly, drinking past blackout and getting myself into trouble. The next day I would find a way to punish myself. It was a vicious circle.”
You can hear that search for catharsis on the beautiful title track, which she dropped as a single in September; we’ve embedded the accompanying video for you below.
The short film careers through Soho, looking backwards, on a gathering dusk of social gatherings; have you ever walked among the normal business of a city, so close yet so alienated, your own life snapped, a ghost in the urban machine, reduced to a detached camera – only seeing?
The song is instrumentally low-key, with a smattering of electronica texturing; Sophie is the absolute magnetic dead centre of this song, lamenting how someone has ” … let me go / From your kindness / To a new kind of blindness … “. She hits upon a certain beautiful melody-mantra, and fastens to it over the duration of six minutes, the power coming in all the way she articulates those notes in new emotional shades; how she recasts the melody in the soreness of a new lyrical inversion. It’s stunning.
Sophie says: “This song is a search for peace by any means necessary. I wanted to escape how I felt, to blur it and take the edge off it, to indulge in it and then leave it behind.
“It reflects the constant effort to balance feeling too much and feeling nothing; the desperate search for equilibrium that only ever ends in chaos.” You could call it an earworm, but that would be almost trite; it fastens deeper, much deeper, than that.
It’s followed by “Forward”, a quieter, autumnal swoon in 6/8. Her voice, clear, trilling like a songbird, pulls traditional British folk textures out to a place where the edge of self-expression breathes new vitality into it. If you ever fell for Leaf Records’ Nancy Elizabeth, you’ll find an awful lot to luxuriate in here. She brings more electronic textures to the music; a synth motif with an off-kilter treatment marks progress like a metronome as Sophie soars high above. She sings of “being light as a feather … the lump in your throat will linger another day.”
Ever autobiographical, Sophie says: “’Forward’ is about trying to find some control amid chaos.
“My instinct for years had been to deny that a period of time had happened, to empty myself of its trace – but at this point, I began to understand that I could accept it, that it is part of who I am and that I do not have to destroy the evidence of my past in order to move forward”.
“Concrete” is a neurotic imagining of her own death at her local roundabout; which anyone experienced in urban cycling will know is a very real prospect. But in a strange turn of events she actually did get knocked off her bike right there, just a couple of months on.
“When I was hit I felt this intense relief as I flew through the air – the relief of being allowed to feel pain, having permission to cry, and a reason to be taken care of.
“It had a pretty serendipitous connection to the song I had already written, which is a song that fantasises about getting close to the ground – and being allowed to give up.”, she says.
“Ear to the gravel / Hear the world unravelling,” she sings, with that beautiful, customary crack in her voice; the spare, arpeggio synth strings giving her plenty of space to sing out. It treats the prospect of collision with understatement, even relief. The removal of the tyranny of choice, of having to carry on.
While “Concrete” is a lean into oblivion, it does end on a hopeful note; Jamieson’s voice of reason cutting through to sound out her destructive inner-voice once and for all.
A cracking and deep four-track EP concludes with “The End Of The Road”, a simple thumbed, blue note strum, about a moment when you try to flee, and can’t, because you’re still yourself. “My body folded … my heart said ‘please, don’t make me do this,” she sings. If you’ve ever been there, you’ll know: mind and body fatally intertwined yet divorced; the constant internal battles of the physical and the mental, the willpower needed to both act and to suppress. It’s a nakedly autobiographical stunner, all candour and melody and massively pretty.
With this as the third EP in her catalogue, you can trace with precision Sophie’s development as a both a musician and a human. The shy, almost Grouper-like delicacy of Where; the bolder, simmering jolts of Hammer; they’ve led to what sounds to be a more accepting place on Release: not joy, perhaps, but a letting go. An acceptance and an encapsulation of where’s she’s been; one final look back, summating.
Her voice and songwriting are so very strong; there’s no doubt it’s her best yet.