Holly Humberstone is a 20-year-old British singer-songwriter whose reputation precedes her via several singles released earlier this year — which have garnered rave reviews, ranging from the New York Times to the BBC to the Lefsetz Letter — and a European tour opening for Lewis Capaldi just before the pandemic, during which she played to 12,000 people at London’s Wembley Arena.
As is often the case with such seemingly wide-ranging appeal, it’s all for a good reason: Humberstone has a lovely and versatile voice and a remarkably effortless way with a melody. While there are flashes of several other artists in her songs — Sia, Lorde, Haim, James Blake, Billie Eilish and especially Phoebe Bridgers — this debut EP (which includes all of the aforementioned singles) finds her arriving nearly fully formed.
Having said that, the opening track here, “Deep End,” is so Phoebe-esque it’s a borderline tribute song, but Humberstone quickly shakes that off and explores several other worlds over the course of this six-song EP. In fact, there almost seems to be two different artists on display here, one who leans toward more melancholy, at times quavering songs, and another who almost seems to be fighting off an innate, Olympic-level pop ability. Based on the upbeat songs here, the deceptively elaborate and sophisticated “Overkill” and “Vanilla,” she could be cranking out chart-topping hits in Hollywood if she chose that route.
Instead, she’s taking a more interesting path that combines the two: Despite the heavy subject matter of many of her songs — mental health, toxic relationships and emotional upheaval — there’s an almost offhand ease to others; even “Drop Dead” has an oddly upbeat chorus. And while the songs are guitar or piano-based, collaborator Rob Milton helps flesh them out, adding color with electronic textures and rhythms.
But it’s Humberstone’s show all the way — her solo performance on “Jimmy Kimmel” earlier this week shows what a gifted singer she is — and “Falling Asleep at the Wheel” marks the arrival of a major new talent.