A third of the way through her debut album, “Paint My Bedroom Black,” Gen Z pop singer Holly Humberstone initiates a sort of slow dance, but one set in an anxious daydream.
“When you found me I was a train wreck / You gathered my bones in a blanket,” she sings on “Kissing in Swimming Pools,” as if whispering in someone’s ear. “So, can we kiss in your swimming pool? In this bathing suit, I would die for you.”
The song’s steady rhythm and candid lyrics are soothing but also worried — a tone that captures the rest of Humberstone’s debut, due out Friday. Across 13 tracks, Humberstone allows herself to wallow in the confusion of maintaining new and old relationships. And she isn’t afraid to own the suffocating nature of that uncertainty. But she’s also building a new world, ushering in a reset. As she sings on album’s title track, “Here’s to new horizons.”
Humberstone, 23, first established a fanbase in 2020 with the release of her EP “Falling Asleep at the Wheel.” In 2022, she was awarded the BRIT’s Rising Star award, adding to a lineage that includes Adele, Sam Smith and Florence + The Machine.
She supported Girl in Red and Olivia Rodrigo on tour that year, joining Rodrigo on the second leg of her “Sour” tour after an opening stint by Gracie Abrams. Beyond sharing the stage, these artists also belong to the same class of young talent as Humberstone, songwriters whose frank lyrics about young love and growing up have shaped a new era of soft pop.
She’s also among those artists whose music largely found its audience during pandemic lockdowns — when the yearning and uncertainty of youth was perhaps at its most relatable.
The end of “Ghost Me” has a pleading quality reminiscent of some of the aching tracks on Abrams’ debut album, “Good Riddance.” It relies on an upbeat repetition to create an urgency that feels poignant. It also expertly captures the trials of modern communication, as Humberstone references doomscrolling through a camera roll alongside cycling through her own memories.
As the track fades to ambient sounds, a voice memo from a friend of Humberstone’s begins: “There’s this SpongeBob line which I always think of, and it’s this guy who’s really sad, and he goes: ‘I was born with paper skin and bones made out of glass, every day I wake up and I shatter my ankles,’ or something like that. Like he’s really sad, I’ll find it now. But that’s how I feel at the moment.”
Set against Humberstone’s lyrics, there’s a poetic, heartbreaking quality to that statement. In actuality, that (often referenced on social media) quote is from a 2002 “SpongeBob” episode called “Chocolate with Nuts,” and that guy (fish?) is a con artist attempting to swindle SpongeBob and his starfish best friend, Patrick.
There may be something to be said, then, about the gullibility required of contemporary relationships, especially very-online ones. But the recording’s inclusion is fitting, a knowing nod to Humbestone’s youth. As she sings earlier in the track, “And where the hell did our childhood go? It freaks me out, how fast we grow.”
The 13 tracks on “Paint My Bedroom Black” live within the same atmosphere, one that is woven out of layered and pulsing productions of synthetic sounds, rich drum beats and Humberstone’s strong vocals. But they are also different enough to paint a complex portrait of a young woman going through something, one who will paint her bedroom black not to hide from the outside world — but to drown out distraction. And open herself up to it.