Immediate, intimate, soothing and sparse. A stunning debut album from Chloe Foy
Release Date: 11th June 2021
Label: Self Release (Bandcamp)
Formats: CD / Vinyl / Streaming / Download
Surprisingly, Where Shall We Begin is the debut album from Gloucestershire’s Chloe Foy. I say “surprisingly” because she’s been in our consciousness for quite some time. She released her debut single In The Middle Of The Night as long ago as 2013. Her songs have received around 9 million Spotify plays and, for quite some time, she’s been a growing presence on the live music scene. A presence that includes appearances at the SXSW, Green Man and Cambridge Folk Festivals in recent years.
Where Shall We Begin represents the culmination of a ten-year period of highly-focused activity which was both driven and restrained by the grief and inner turmoil that followed the loss of her father to depression. As Chloe says: “For me, this album has come out of a decade of hard graft, trying to balance my craft with making a living, whilst taking my time to get it right. All whilst dealing with the fallout of a huge bereavement in my most formative years. I was finding it hard to work out who I was within this new, alien context of losing a parent.”
Chloe cites Gillian Welch, Edith Piaf and Tyler Ramsey amongst her songwriting influences. Her songs are raw and honest and pull no emotional punches. As she says: “These songs are my most inner and deepest secrets. The kind of things I only express to those closest to me, but for some reason in song, I can open up with the world.” That little statement explains an awful lot; some of the sentiments expressed in Chloe’s songs are deeply personal, so much so that I was occasionally prompted to wonder where she found the bravery to express them.
Where Shall We Begin was recorded at Pinhole Studios in Manchester – Chloe’s adopted home. Chloe plays piano, synths, cello, harmonium, harmonica, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and organ and she’s supported by a whole host of musician friends, notably Harry Fausing Smith on guitars, bass, piano, clarinet and synths (Harry is also responsible for the string arrangements that are such a striking feature of the album) and Henry Rankin on viola and violin. Somewhat surprisingly then, given the range of instrumental support, the sound is overwhelmingly intimate, soothing and sparse, with acres of space given to Chloe’s enchanting, immediate, alternately urgent and dreamlike vocal.
The album opens with the ethereal title track, a song on which the soft finger-picked acoustic guitar and the breathy vocals give little indication of the sheer range of the music to follow. Some inkling of that range starts to dawn with Dreaming, a song based around a plodding bass/guitar line, some nice twangy guitar licks and a very measured vocal delivery.
Work Of Art is an early highlight; drum-heavy with more of those intimate I’m speaking JUST to you vocals. It’s a song that considers the warmth created for both performer and audience when a community of music lovers gets together to spend their evening lost in song – and who is there amongst us who can’t relate to that particular sentiment?
Evangeline is another cracker. Folkier and more stripped back than the preceding tracks, it has a sparseness that reminds me of Fleet Foxes (one of several songs to do so) until, ⅔ of the way through, the sound fills out, and the song ends as something almost resembling a military march! Asylum is another song with that same Fleet Foxes feel – light and airy, and which, once again builds pleasingly.
Bones is, as the song’s title suggests, altogether darker. Voice, guitar, strings and ghostly backing vocals combine to deliver a song that is haunted and almost gothic in texture. Shining Star is another favourite. It’s the album’s lead single and deals with the difficult subject of Chloe’s late father’s depression. The lyrics reflect upon and regret her father’s decision to take an office job, rather than to follow his passions of art and pottery – he was talented at both – and expresses Chloe’s own determination not to follow that same path. Heartfelt regret comes across clearly, as do the hints of bitterness at the circumstances and expectations that convinced her father to take the course he did.
After the anguish of Shining Star, the dreamy, likeable Left-Centred Weight feels almost light and poppy. That relief doesn’t last long before we return to intimate family emotions with And It Goes, a song in which Chloe reflects on how her mother’s love for her never faltered, even as her mother came to terms with the loss of her soulmate. And It Goes is, for me at least, the rawest expression of emotion on the album and Chloe’s bravery in confronting that emotion is remarkable.
This stunning album is wrapped up with Square Face, a song of self-reflection sung to a simple guitar lick and laden with synths and strings. The acapella section of the song is, perhaps, the most intimate passage on an album packed with intimacy and, somehow, manages to bring an album full of expressions of anguish and revelation to a peaceful, contented close.
Watch the Official Video to the album’s lead single, Shining Star, below.