‘Grim Town’ is about two spaces – one physical, one psychological. In part it’s a paean to extraordinarily gifted 22-year-old songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson’s hometown of Derry (like many of us, she has a love-hate relationship with the site of her formative years), while the title more specifically refers to a melancholic state of mind. “If something’s a bit shit, me and my friends say ‘it’s grim town’”, she told Noisey. Yet her second album is an absolute joy.
This is lush indie-pop, glimmering with jewel-like synth arrangements and aching piano refrains. “Let’s be honest / I’m a work-in-progress” she beams on ‘Life Trainee’, an upbeat ode to getting it wrong. “I used to be so sure before,” she sings later, “I realised I knew nothing at all.” We’ve all been there. Elsewhere, on lead single ‘Knock Me Off My Feet’, Monds-Watson pairs a similarly jubilant acoustic-based track (interrupted with a freewheeling guitar solo) with the emotionally on-point lyrics: “I’ve always done the best I can / To get out of my neighbourhood… But you’re still my home / You stay within my bones.”
She worked on the album having crash-landed back in Derry after she toured her first record, 2015’s Mercury nominated ‘Before We Forgot How to Dream’. “All my memories came to haunt me,” she recently told The Times. The first track, a spoken-word dispatch from her grandfather, lays out the concept: “Welcome aboard… the 4.32 to Grim Town… Please note: this train is for the following category of passengers only – recipients of Universal Credit and minimum wage; the lonely; the disenfranchised…” And so the list goes on.
It’s a neat conceit that immediately establishes the warm, familiar tone that permeates record. There’s a ‘80s pop flavour throughout: the joyous ‘Déjà vu’, for instance, perhaps shares some DNA with Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’ (which can only be a good thing) and the brassy ‘Maybe’ is an instant highlight. Monds-Watson has said that ‘Grim Town’ is twinned with ‘Happyville’ – precisely where you’ll disembark after 15 exquisite tracks.