Sam Vance-Law has a truly lovely voice. It has a baritone range, which is all too rare in pop. It has superbly-written songs to sing. And it delivers them with a grace and sensitivity that makes the Berlin-based artist’s debut album Homotopia a mostly beautiful listen.
“I’d been frustrated by a few things, particularly the queer / gay music I’d been hearing,” says its creator. “It seemed to focus on two themes: victimhood and pride. Thematically and musically, that seemed relatively impoverished, and the gay rights movement was moving quickly. Who cottages anymore? Who comes out in middle age? I wanted to capture, through various narratives, some of the gay experience, as it is now, without judgement – so far as I was able – and, perhaps, controversially enough to engender interest in those narratives and ways of being.”
So it’s necessarily not all beautiful, with one exception to the rule being Faggot. Here Vance-Law adopts a punky snarl befitting the narrating character’s darkly satirical self-hatred (“I guess I could go and get corrective therapy / Find a pretty girl and start a normal family / Then climb in my bathtub and slit my wrists / Cause i’m a faggot”) only for the beat to dissolve one minute in as his vulnerability is exposed once again. It’s a very powerful moment, and far from the only one.
The arrangements often feel like a rock-band concerto, with drums, bass and guitars providing the song’s basic elements before incorporating orchestral flourishes indebted to baroque pop. Prettyboy, the lead single, opens as a sunny indie number before moving into a slower piano-led section that represents the dysphoria of the song’s titular character, and the changes of tempo, metre and instrumentation that take place in multiple tracks are very effective in illustrating the shifting tone of a story (see also Narcissus 2.0).
The songwriting has a wit to it, selling concepts that otherwise could run the risk of sounding sentimental, as on Let’s Get Married, and it displays a broad scope that causes the album to feel grander than its 35-minute run time. Homotopia is a very satisfying debut from a very talented artist.