Despite being titled Paint My Bedroom Black, Holly Humberstone’s full-length debut is an amalgamation of flashing colors, moving from cerulean blue to super blood moon orange at hyper-speed. In a lot of ways, the chaos reflects the English singer-songwriter’s own life.
Her two previous EPs, 2020’s Falling Asleep At The Wheel and 2021’s The Walls Are Way Too Thin found instant success and garnered a dedicated online fanbase. Shortly after, she opened for Olivia Rodrigo on her North American tour. Paint My Bedroom Black was mostly written on the road, between hotel rooms and soundchecks, as the young singer was experiencing the emotional turbulence that comes with your early 20s–and reeling from her newfound stardom.
Along with contemporaries like Rodrigo, Gracie Abrams, and Maisie Peters, Humberstone is part of a generation of young women influenced by diaristic pop goliaths Taylor Swift and Lorde, who are fearlessly putting their hearts on their sleeves to create compelling earworms. On Paint My Bedroom Black, Humberstone doubles down on her voracious honesty, laying bare her deepest regrets, doom scroll nights, and drinking habits. But while the 23-year-old’s outward aesthetic is dark and gothic, her catchy pop songs are bright, upbeat and radio-ready.
Humberstone depicts her neediness in a way that feels authentic. “Please excuse my desperation,” she warns listeners on “Girl,” in her signature, breathy voice. The vivid desperation could seem trite, if not for the convincing soundscapes that make pleas feel urgent. On the single “Into Your Room,” Humberstone creates an updated Eighties scene complete with boombox window confessions and crystalized synths as she shouts, “without you my soul is entirely doomed.” Alternatively, “Kissing In Swimming Pools” is a gorgeous, waltz-tempo wish for requited love in the vein of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You.” Melodramatic lyrics like “I would die for you” are softened by tender details: “You look heavenly/ In this shade of blue.”
Humberstone isn’t just begging for love, she’s also looking for forgiveness from important people in her life. In a song named after a friend she has let down, “Lauren,” she trills, “Say the word and I’ll call/Say the word and I’m coming back” over an insistent drum machine. Meanwhile, “Elvis Impersonators” describes frantically missing her sister: “I need you next to me, I’m spiraling/I miss your bones, selfishly,” she whispers over a crescendo of haunting piano chords and thumping drums.
Sonically, Humberstone builds on the sleek production of her earlier work, maneuvering through glitzy loops and subdued guitar. “Flatlining” is a whiplash exception with Auto-tuned vocals and pulsating beats fit for a West End club. It shouldn’t work, but her clever lyrics elevate the track, proving how vital Humberstone’s sharp songwriting is in creating a map for her music to mold to.
Humberstone aptly rounds out the album with “Room Service,” a delicate daydream where she is finally reunited with her long-distance lover. The song doubles as a plea to herself, “We’ll look around to see we’ve lived another year,” she sings with layered vocals, like all her past, present, and future selves are reassuring her.