It’s not as if he’s been quiet over the last decade. He’s formed the synth-pop duo Summer Camp with his wife Elizabeth Sankey, releasing three albums (with a new record to follow next year), and moved into film, TV and game soundtracking.
So it came as a bit of a surprise when Warmsley announced at the start of the year that he’d be embarking on a new solo project – writing, recording and releasing a song every month. As the tracks were released over the year, it became clear that Warmsley was trying to musically reflect each month: so, listening to the songs in an album format means that each track ebbs and flows as the seasons pass by.
It’s an ingenious idea, and while each track stands up beautifully as an individual song, it also makes perfect sense as an album. The format also means that a concept starts to form the more you listen – a melancholic tale of love and loss that begins hopefully, endures the rush of the summer months, before wistfully petering out towards the end of the year.
A Year starts, suitably enough, with January, which reflects people’s desire for a new beginning. As the brush drums and warm piano kick in, the lyrical motif of “what’s a new start, without a new heart” starts to unwind around the melody. February tackles similar things, with Warmsley yearningly asking for a “clean break” over a gently propulsive beat.
One of the fascinating things about listening to A Year is hearing the repeated themes that Warmsley plays with. March has a chorus of “don’t feel like myself, thank God”, which is reprised later in the record, while the lyrical hook of January’s “new start, new heart” is repeated when the narrator finds love. The really impressive thing though is how Warmsley makes the songs actually sound like the months that they’re entitled after.
So, April sees the Spring-like acoustic guitars burst into fashion, rather like flowers in a garden would during that month, while when we get into the summer months of June, July and August, there’s a sense of euphoria bubbling under the surface, as synths appear and the narrator begins to experience the rush of new love. It’s here that Warmsley’s work with Summer Camp is most brought to mind, especially on the bouncy July (helped, of course, by the presence of Sankey as backing vocalist throughout the album).
And, as the weather chills and the leaves start to fall from the trees, so the music reflects the change in season. By October, the romance that Walmsley has been documenting is over (“it wasn’t even a year, it was hardly a thing, I made mistakes”) and in November, he’s promising to work on himself rather than relationships. By the time December comes around, there are sleigh bells and Auld Lang Syne ringing out, but the overall mood is that of melancholy.
There may not be the pop hooks that fans of Summer Camp will be familiar with or the intricate arrangements that defined Warmsley’s early solo work. Yet these quiet, understated songs remind you just how good Warmsley can be as a singer-songwriter. While these songs were nice diversions every month during 2019, they’re given a new lease of life in the album format.