Arts & Culture

Review: Memory Palace by James Humphrys5 min read

Bristol-based singer-songwriter James Humphrys talks his second EP, Memory Palace, a record based on reflection and appreciating life.

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James Humphrys is an up-and-coming artist who grew up in Gilford playing for bands, moved to Bristol to study at BIMM (Bristol Music College), and has since been pursuing his solo career by writing, recording and producing music.

The process of making the EP:

Memory Palace, Humphrys’s new EP, consists of four tracks, was produced during his time working on a cruise trip in Alaska. He focuses on layering genres; radiating ecstatic energy, uplifting and groove intertwined with indie undertones.

After graduating from BIMM, Humphrys and his girlfriend flew off to Hawaii to work on a cruise ship as musicians, performing to the guests every day. During his spare time, whilst at sea, he would spend time with his mini-recording setup and a guitar. He calls it an amazing experience: “It was crazy, sometimes I’d be recording, and I’d look out to the porthole and there would be whales. It was a pretty mad experience to write and record on a ship.”

He describes the EP as “optimistic”, and says he was “reflecting a lot of my friends and memories back home”. Writing on the ship was an isolating experience for him, but it was a time to appreciate that “life is pretty good”.

Track 1: All The Same

A catchy rhythm instantly hooking you before the vocals come in. Soft and mellow tunes emitting a summer aura, giving off “main character vibes”, someone living their dream life, carefree, chasing their hopes and dreams. Humphrys describes All The Same as “not always looking for reasons why things can’t be good, but instead, we should go with the flow, enjoying the little moments”.

The captivating instrumental is matched by the equally vibrant vocal melody. The chorus stands out and magnifies as the song develops. The bridge changes the pace of the song — the instrumental here is much quieter and low-key. This creates a refreshing contrast in the song, as when the chorus comes in afterwards, it makes it hit even stronger. 

The song has a unique structure, with the chorus being repeated at the end, heightening “All the same”. It’s definitely a song you could imagine hearing on mainstream radio or even in a coming-of-age film. A song with an appealing indie and pop sound, but, as Humphrys says, a song where you should “believe in things when they feel right and to not look for reasons why they shouldn’t be”.

Track 2: Better Now

Initially, this song screams summer. The blend of the pop sound with the sax/trumpet emits happiness; a song you would listen to whilst on a summer road trip. With a slower tempo and more laid-back vocal melody, the track still has high energy. 

It’s very different to the other tunes on the EP, highlighting James’ ability to switch up his formula when creating his music. The lyrics are catchy, and the song is one that would be very popular when performed live. 

This song has an outro with the repeated lyric “Is it all better now”, and the instrumental becomes increasingly louder during this section. It ends with a very high energy — a moment in the song where you can imagine fans shouting this lyric at gigs.

Track 3: Colour

A modern summer track, some may describe it to have an aesthetic feel. However, it has a deeper meaning. Through his lyrical ability, Humphrys narrates the struggles of modern friendships. He says: “It’s about when you are in a group situation, where you notice someone you know quite well acting differently and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound like you.’” Essentially, your friend is like an actor, switching up their persona depending on the atmosphere they are in — an aspect many listeners may relate to.

The vocal melody is very simple, but in the best way possible — it doesn’t try to be overly and unnecessarily complicated. This lets the artist’s voice and well-written lyrics to shine, allowing the lyricism to be the main focus rather than them getting lost. “The colour of the words you speak” is a very unique lyric and can be interpreted as the friend having different ways of speaking to fit their agenda.

The saxophone/trumpet makes a return in the outro of this song — this is the first track on the EP to have a purely instrumental outro, so it’s nice to see another different structure being used in Humphrys’s songwriting.

Track 4: Lost In You

As the song starts, your mood is instantly lifted. The female vocals really make the song stand out on the EP, as it is starkly different to the other songs — they are utilised in both the verses and chorus. They complement each other very well. This is the most notable thing about this song, and its main strength. That’s what makes it instantly stand out.

The female vocals are very dreamy, high, soft and clean — very angelic. When they alternate, it’s like they are telling a story and both contributing their sides. The collaboration makes perfect sense, unlike a lot of songs with features, where the artist and the featured artist have no chemistry, and the feature is just a verse attached to the song.

As the song goes on, they sing more and more in unison, so it feels like they are getting closer, which matches perfectly with the title of the song, because it really does feel like they are getting lost in one another. It’s a love song about a relationship that feels effortless, where you can rely on one another and are completely comfortable. Written on the ship with his girlfriend, Humphrys says: “It’s the perfect closer, a perfect song to end on.”

He wants his EP to be one where listeners can make their own judgements, wishing for them to interpret his songs by relating to their own life. From playing Glastonbury in 2018 to hoping to tour in the future, Humphrys has ambitions to release more singles and soon an album too.

Memory Palace is out on Friday, 10 July.

Mansi Vithlani

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