Bess Atwell is just 21, yet her first album, Hold Your Mind, is the work of a mature artist. Written over the space of three years, these songs, these arrangements stay with you long after the disc has ended. Initially recording was done with Michael Smith in London. Yet when the magic seemed to leave, Atwell returned to Sussex where Smith created a studio in her sitting room. Still others were captured in a garage in Barcombe.
Regardless of where the songs were recorded, the music is light and alive yet burnished with dark edges. Hold Your Mind questions the state of today’s digital existence, what’s been gained and what’s been lost in the bargain. In the age of Facebook and social media, are we losing who we are as we scroll down the page seeing someone else’s life being more exciting and vibrant than our own, “all the answers I can find, I have no questions, I have no mind.”
Similarly, ‘Resolution’ asks questions with answers that aren’t necessarily the ones were looking for. “My words used to resonate now they don’t make a sound.” ‘Cobbled Streets’ struggles with the sense of dislocation one has living in a small town, being a part of and yet apart from that particular place. “Now that I know what I’m missing, I’m not scared to do without.”
From a few chords on a piano ‘Punish You’ builds slowly and powerfully before falling back to that simple opening phrase. They lyrics reflect a sense of ambivalence, “When I asked you to disappear it was too punishing my dear.” Yet when Atwell adds, “I miss you my dear,” one begins to question what might have been.
It’s been five years since Bess Atwell posted her version of Fleet Foxes Mykonos on Facebook. In that time she has matured and grown, taking notes from her own favorites like Fleet Foxes Robin Pecknold, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and First Aid Kit’s Klara and Johanna Soderberg. That those lessons have been integrated so fully is testament to her gifts as an artist. An auspicious debut!
Words: Bob Fish