Sometimes, hiding behind others is the easiest option. From birth, we’re shielded from dangers by our parents and guardians, socialized by education that promotes questionable groupthink, before finally being subjugated by employers who don’t want us to have ideas above our stations. The path of least resistance is often the most appealing, and most of us are happy to go along with this system. Such was the case for Bristol’s Jemima Coulter, whose talents in soulful singing, emotive songwriting, and idiosyncratic production were somewhat shielded in their work with group Hailaiker, as well in their collaborations with Squirrel Flower, S Carey, and Novo Amor. Earlier this year, Coulter decided to step out into the world as a solo artist with their delightful debut single, “SST”. It was a fortunate leap for us; their debut album, Grace After a Party, is a gorgeous, bittersweet, and exciting debut.
With cues from the collage-like mixes of Bon Iver, Coulter fuses acoustic and electronic instrumentation with mystifying lyrics and impassioned vocals in a refreshing style. “Dancing with Lara” starts as an upbeat, summery indie-pop tune before shifting into a glacial sweep of atmospheric synths, crystalline cymbals, and treated vocals. “Piano 1” is an intimate and fragile piano-led track that, halfway through, is propelled by a flurry of drums and unintelligible instruments. The stream-of-consciousness lyrics don’t always make the most significant impact (“Courage from your taken tour / You know that I’ve not had enough / This time I won’t be only trying / I’ll be out and drawing the lines!”), but the sentiment with which the lyrics are delivered conveys the message; that sadness and hurt can be redemptive.
“For Grace (After a Party)” is a tantalizing folktronica piece that sees electronic percussion and acoustic guitars provide a canvas to Coulter’s brooding expression, giving rise to moments of satisfying coolness.
“[flowers]” is a light tune that talks of the salvific powers of love; (“My love makes it all louder, Time out, time that makes me forage powers”), but that doesn’t ignore the complex realities of being in a relationship: (“After taking patients and my fire fills up, Flaring with some anxious, I can hear a gentle, Someone saying sing me, Something better”). “Peeling” is a gentle and expansive song with bright brass, piano, and sound effects that occasionally bubble to the surface.
If there is one fault with this record, Coulter often plays it safe by not playing it safe at all. Where more straightforward production and song structures would’ve given tracks like “New Recording/Reaching” and “Peeling/Heaven” more room to breathe, Coulter covers these tracks with elaborate production and unnecessary ornamentation. Somewhat contradictorily, the stripped-back “Estrella” and the dry burst of genre-shifting “Horses” have the most chutzpah.
Grace After a Party is a bold and confident debut that introduces Jemima Coulter as an artist who straddles the line between the experimental and the accessible. Not afraid of being themself, Coulter’s music could galvanize the more tender to be proud of who they are, to twist the pain of being sensitive in an insensitive world into something with profound importance. The tracks here are given meticulous attention to detail, yet the production tricks and inventiveness are merely the sign that gets you through the door. Once you’re inside, the cozy emotion will make you want to keep coming back.