The Art of Fiction, Jeremy Warmsley’s 2006 debut, was a collection of sprawling odes to life as a young man in a big city. The self-produced album suffered from too many competing ideas creating schizophrenic and frequently impenetrable songs. Although the scattergun of inventiveness struck home for some outrageously uplifting moments of music as on Dirty Blue Jeans and Modern Children, hinting at a rare but wild talent.
From the outset, How We Became, Warmsley’s second album, sees the Anglo-French Londoner in a much more considered mood. Lose My Cool is a downbeat lovesong. The electronic folk, contorted vocals, and shifting tempo will seem familiar to fans of the first album, but Warmsley’s new found knack of writing a pop song sets the stage for a far more accomplished record.
Sins (I Try) is piano a led torch song, fleshed out with percussion and backing vocals apparently provided by a prison chain gang. But despite hefty, layered accompaniment, the star of the song is Warmsley’s vocal, which swells and wilts, soars and stoops with dramatic effect. The emotional intent and intensity are somewhat akin to that of Rufus Wainwright… but without the intrusive breathing and other annoying bits.
The more considered approach to this record may well be explained by the coproduction of Markus Dravs, whose experience working with Arcade Fire, Bjork, and Brian Eno has no doubt taught him how to arrange conflicting multitudinous ideas. 15 Broken Swords could easily be three songs in one, but it works as a whole, which is no mean feat.
Dancing With The Enemy is a perfect example of the complex charm that pervades How We Became. A tale of a stolen romantic liaison between a German Soldier and World War 2 resident Channel Islander (at least that’s probably the story) becomes an eminently danceable pop song – how many other artists could do that?
There are a few tracks in which, rather than being restrained, the creativity seems a little suppressed, so the title track, Turn Your Back, and Take Care, don’t stand up with the best of the album. But this is a minor quibble and tracks such as If He Breaks Your Heart more than make up for any failings. The lyrics to this track are some of the most charming you will here all year: “If he takes the piss I will break his face, if he fucks around I will kill him stone cold dead…if he treats you right I will be his friend”.
How We Became seems instantly familiar, and played through headphones while on the move it seems like a perfectly written soundtrack, tailored to the unmade film of your day. Eclectic, accomplished, engaging, creative and just plain-damn excellent, How We Became is one of the best British albums this year.