Saint Saviour explores a sound that effortlessly flits between intimate folk and string-laden chamber pop. Sublime. Gorgeous. Pick a glowing adjective. In The Seams is one of the best albums of the year.
There are few voices as beautifully striking as that of English singer-songwriter Saint Saviour, née Rebecca Jones. Capable of quiet, introspective elegance one moment and soulful, melismatic pyrotechnics the next, those tremendous pipes have become her golden calling card. Formally the front woman of indie electro-band the RGBs, she rose to international prominence with her dazzling collaborative work on Groove Armada's Grammy-nominated album Black Light. Kaleidoscopic lead single "I Won't Kneel” and “Paper Romance”, the LP’s anthemic duet with Fenech Soler, were inarguably two of the highlights of the record, one in which Jones’s performances eclipsed even that of Bryan Ferry’s smoky contribution, “Shameless”.
Parting ways with Groove Armada, she ventured out on her own, staking claim to the scene as a solo artist of considerable note. The songs that followed proved to be as arresting as the voice that inhabited them. From the pulsing, synth darkness of “This Ain't No Hymn”, to the delicate piano ballad “Reasons”, each new offering provided resounding evidence that her star-turning presence on Black Light was anything but a fluke. The electronic elements so prevalent on the Suukei and Anatomy EPs were dialed down a notch on her debut album, Union, but it only highlighted the versatility of that remarkable instrument in a variety of different settings. At times though, it felt like she was spending the duration of the record trying on different costumes. On her sophomore outing In The Seams, Jones has finally settled upon one, and it is a stunning sound to behold.
Gone is the inky black bob that defined her previous image, and in its place, two-toned, strawberry blond hair now cascades down her cheeks and rests on her shoulders. Her latest videos, with their cinematic, widescreen imagery, are a far cry from the neon-lit, jellyfish costumes and glitter-caked cosmetics of “This Ain’t No Hymn”. Both her image and her music have undergone a slight face lift, yet Jones is still utterly recognizable. The landscape may have changed, but the talent remains firmly intact. One needs only to revisit Suukei’s “Some Things Change” and Union’s “Fallen Trees” to hear that she has been slowly heading in this direction all along. Produced and arranged by Bill Ryder-Jones, the former lead guitarist of the Coral, In The Seams explores a sound that effortlessly flits between intimate folk and string-laden chamber pop.
The album begins with a sound that resembles both rushing waves and the sigh of wind blowing through the trees. A warm metallic drone and an arpeggiated piano passage play beneath her softly intoned humming as she sings, "I’ve made considerable mistakes / tried to be someone else. I’ve smoothed the creases from my face / fought a war for myself," on opening track “Intro (Sorry)”. It is a breathtaking introduction to the record, one that perfectly encapsulates the mood of the album as a whole.
In an ideal world, the record’s latest single “Let It Go” would be that one song to thrust Saint Saviour’s career into the stratosphere. She damn well deserves it, but such success is uncertain in the age of auto tune. Jones sings, "Every second I get older there’s a line / I get down and pray for time / Every moment is a boulder being fired / Every night a day has died." The tender pianistic chords, panoramic strings and Liz Fraser-esque vocal phrase that concludes the song are all exquisitely rendered. With a chorus that revels in the power of now, the track is the most commercial offering on the album, perfectly suited for the soundtrack of a brooding indie film or even something more mainstream.
“Intravenous” recalls the fragile compositional style of English singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan and the pastoral chamber folk of Caroline Lavelle’s album A Distant Bell. Accompanied by a delicately plucked harp and a gently strummed guitar, Jones sings of the intoxicating effects of “a love that’s simplified and pure”. She then meditates on the subject of fame and happiness, as “Sad Kid” describes a “wandering troubadour” who left town ages ago to claim his spot in the limelight, only to return unfulfilled, despite his success. When she breaks out in a soothing hum during the song's interlude, its tone carries more emotional gravitas than all the vocal histrionics in the world could ever deliver.
Percussion is used sparingly throughout, appearing only when it suits the mood of the piece, as in the case of the soaring “Let It Go”, during the climax of “James”, and on the lovely “Bang”. It is the quieter moments that are the most spellbinding though, and the album’s lead single “I Remember” sounds like it dropped from the clouds above. Ryder-Jones’s gossamer arrangement lets the pure beauty of Saint Saviour’s voice breathe and blossom throughout. She sings, "I remember when we were skin and bone, tough and cruel / But bruises brown and fade away." Waxing nostalgic about youth, loneliness and friendships that dissolved, she contemplates the fate of all those who were such an integral part of her life as a child.
Following the baroque pop of “Craster”, the mood lightens a bit with the playful, finger picking folkiness of “Devotion”. It is a testament to the talent of both producer and songwriter that the uptempo mood of the track doesn’t derail the flow of the album. One might have thought that Jones would have run out of steam by this point in the record, but they’d be sorely wrong. “James”, a haunting song about a bullied adolescent boy, arrives at the end of the record to silence any potential detractors. The sound of giggling children gives way to the wintry tone of a vibraphone. Its swirling melody is duplicated in the piano line, as strings are tenderly wrapped around the song like a bright, silvery bow. Songs such as these were designed to be played endlessly on repeat.
Months ago, she premiered a demo of the record’s pièce de résistance “Nobody Died”. Accompanying herself at the piano, Jones sang, "But hey, we’re okay my friend / Nobody died in the end / And the stupid things won’t matter in the light / So hold tight." Even with the addition of the Manchester Camarata Orchestra on the final studio recording, the track still packs more emotional punch in four minutes and seven seconds than any song in recent memory. It is a living, breathing bandage for the soul, like a comforting embrace from an old friend in a time of immense pain. When people talk about the healing power of music, this is the kind of track that should be referenced. Some artists spend their entire careers trying to compose a song as heartbreakingly honest as “Nobody Died”. Jones' sophomore album is full of them. Sublime. Gorgeous. Pick a glowing adjective. Saint Saviour’s In The Seams is one of the best albums of the year.