Bess Atwell Cracks Open a Secret Door on 'Light Sleeper'

Exclaim! Staff Picks

BY Megan LaPierrePublished May 29, 2024

While it may have been largely overshadowed by the release of another album he worked on that summer, I was a big fan of Aaron Dessner's work on the 2020 Hannah Georgas album, All That Emotion. In the years that have passed since, he's gone on to become an increasingly prolific collaborator of pop stars and more folk-leaning pseudo-indies alike — including Brighton, UK's Bess Atwell.

Atwell's third album, Light Sleeper, is the first album Dessner has worked on in several moons that he didn't also write. Her pristinely constructed folk songs become something bigger than themselves with him behind the boards, providing ample amounts of swell and sweep to accentuate the melodic dynamism Atwell's pen brings to the table.

In press notes, the singer-songwriter says the record is about "the willingness to feel." Somehow, she's able to capture that measured resistance — the fear that letting yourself sink into the depths of any great emotion will find you in undertow — in songs that feel like a secret door cracked open; but there's more hard-won wisdom in her cashmere-grained delivery than a fresh wound would allow for.

And while they all gleam with dreamy production and Atwell's bow-breaking lyrics, it's the driving single "Release Myself" that really gets to the core of the artist's intention, as she realizes atop a '90s-indebted towering palisade of guitars: "I can only release myself."

(Real Kind Records)

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