Bess Atwell, ‘Co-op’

Bess Atwell’s 2021 album ‘Already, Always’ packs the softest punch.

Appearing on the horizon in a cloud of etherical harmonies and warm, acoustic strumming, the album sneaks up and delivers a pang of bittersweet loneliness. The opening track, ‘Co-op’, sets the wheels of this melancholy wagon into motion.

Brighton-based singer-songwriter Atwell has been writing and recording music since early teenager-hood, finding that she never quite fit in at school. After realising that a qualification wouldn’t be the thing to get her into the industry, she dropped out of a music degree at University in Cornwall and got herself a manager instead. After a stint at 12 Bar Club in Soho, where she released her first album ‘Hold Your Mind’, Atwell wanted a fresh start.

Photo by Sequoia Ziff

She self-released her next EP, which gave her exactly that. It lead to meeting her current team, finding a new home at Real Kind records, and delivering the album that had been three years in the making:  ‘Already, Always’.

Bathed in airy guitar-lead melodies, each track chimes with crystalline vocals that serenely soar above fairly stripped back instrumentals. Despite being self-defined as ‘indie-folk-pop-rock’, ‘Already, Always’ is far from a clash of genres. Careful finger picking seamlessly meets illustrious synths, catching hooks blend into crashing drums. The album itself is sonically focused – each track, while individual, contributing to an atmosphere of self-reflective stillness.

Such a feeling is also evident in the album’s narrative. Although it is not quite a break up album, it follows the end of a relationship, its reconciliation and the inner turmoil that follows the situation. As Atwell herself highlights, ‘I wanted to illustrate, not just the romance in relationships, but that bit that comes afterwards’.

The opening track ‘Already, Always’, is not quite a break up song. Rich with emotion, the track twinkles into Atwell’s ruminative lyrics: ‘We had that same old talk in the car on the way over/ I said I Love him/ I said I’m not in love’.

‘Co-op’ is so named after its hook; ‘Did you even go to the Co-op if you don’t come back singing the pop song that was on’. Atwell explains the line as an inside joke between her and her partner, cementing the album as part autobiography, part private diary.

Photo by Sequoia Ziff

Part way through the track, the listener is struck with the realisation that, rather than dialogue between two lovers whose relationship is facing rocky territory, Atwell’s lyrics are a monologue, anxiously asking and answering its own questions. This introspective, self-doubting voice is the string that threads the patch worked emotions of the whole album together.

Like any good lyricist, Atwell knows when to hand an emotion over to someone who has said it better. Her line ‘It’s the laughter, it’s the plunge’ references Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. The quote recalls the protagonist’s fear of moving forward in time and near-constant flash backs, a reference well placed within an album that grips tightly onto individual memories like they might slip out of sight.

Atwell’s claim that she aims for a ‘universality in the specifics’ is certainly evident in ‘Co-op’. Her capacity to make an inside joke embody a symphony of ubiquitous, melancholy emotions highlights exactly what makes Atwell so special; namely, her uncanny ability to materialize the fleeting intensities of everyday life.

Check out the album, ‘Already, Always’, here

Words by Kate Bowie

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