Any break-up is tough, but your first major heartbreak is always going to feel extreme. When English singer-songwriter Birdy (aka Jasmine van den Bogaerde) experienced that sting for the first time, she headed for the hills – the Hollywood Hills, to be exact. Armed with a newfound love of Joni Mitchell, she wanted to be in the place the Laurel Canyon sound came to life and it was there (and, later, in Nashville) that she was able to process her romantic separation and turn it into her best record to date.
‘Young Heart’ is a gorgeous album that perfectly captures the meandering journey that heartbreak takes you on. There are songs about sensing what’s looming on the horizon (“Watching satellites lying in the grass/ I know our days are numbered,” Birdy sings on the shuffling ‘Voyager’). Others are embroiled in the sorrow that descends when your love is gone: ‘Nobody Knows Me Like You Do’ finds the musician wrestling with the newly empty space next to her. “So long are the nights now that I’m sleeping here alone,” she cries over sparse but stirring piano. Later, as on ‘New Moon’, she moves into the acceptance stage, optimism starting to peek through again.
The last time we heard from Birdy in album form, five years ago on ‘Beautiful Lies’, she was mining a much more theatrical, ornate sound. Here, though, she keeps things much simpler, allowing her emotions to stand out as the songs’ colour rather than layers of sound. It’s a choice that pays off brilliantly – the poeticism and storytelling of her lyrics are put front and centre, raw, vulnerable and beautiful, while the music that cushions her feels like it’s been whittled down to just what’s necessary for each chapter. As she sings “when there’s dark clouds overhead” on ‘Deepest Lonely’, a fog of strings, piano and more covers the space beneath her voice. On ‘Celestial Dancers’, the verses are backed only by a piano melody gently twinkling and twirling around a steady beat.
As someone who rose to fame at the tender age of 12, Birdy said she needed to take the half-decade gap between this record and its predecessor to do some growing up. Now 23, ‘Young Heart’ finds her returning on the other side of one of life’s bleaker rites of passage, older, wiser and creatively thriving. It could do with an edit in places (its 16-song tracklist loses momentum on the likes of ‘River Song’ and ‘Little Blue’), but for the most part it’s a record of great beauty; one to cling to when you’re going through it and revel in when you too have made it to the other side.
Release date: April 30