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Review: Birdy’s Young Heart Paints a Broad, If Blissful, Portrait of Escape

The singer spends little time dwelling on the specifics of her heartbreak or fully mapping the album’s emotional landscape.

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Birdy, Young Heart
Photo: Lotta Boman

At the age of 14, Jasmine van den Bogaerde made her debut as Birdy with a cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love,” her dulcet, fluttering voice offering a more palatable alternative to Justin Vernon’s tortured, throaty wail. While her rendition stripped away some of the song’s quirks, the British singer-songwriter has since developed vocal idiosyncrasies of her own, positioning her alongside similar chamber-pop artists as Laura Marling and Lucy Rose.

Birdy’s vocal range is broader and more confident throughout her fourth album, Young Heart, spanning from husky ad-libs on “The Otherside” to stunning falsetto on the title track. Whether it’s enveloped in harmonies on the intricate “Voyager” or given ample breathing room on “Nobody Knows Me Like You Do,” Birdy’s voice is the album’s key focal point. The album’s acoustic folk is likewise thoughtfully adorned with ethereal keys, strings, and recordings of bird songs evoking England’s rolling hills and overcast skies.

Lyrically, however, Birdy deals largely in generalities, either recounting the details of a breakup, as if scripted line by line, or painting pictures of nature with a clumsily broad brush. The best folk music is revelatory because it both shares intimately specific feelings and unearths profound ideas from mundane contexts: small towns, open roads, postcard pastures. But few songs on Young Heart are surprising, and in fact, it isn’t hard to glean their lyrical themes from their titles: “River Song” describes time passing as water flows, “Lighthouse” sees Birdy’s love guiding her home, and “Evergreen” explores an enduring love.

The images and metaphors surrounding those concepts rarely expand or deepen the scope of the songs. On “Loneliness,” Birdy talks in her sleep, watches the sky fall, struggles to breathe, and laments her chained heart. On “River Song,” she strains to match the weight of the track’s production with equally heavy concepts, coming up only with such redundancies and platitudes as “Another season turns the page” and “Can you understand how strange it is to be alive?” While Birdy meets the warmth of the album’s production with vocal skill and sensitivity, the overall effect is a very beautiful album littered with clichés that muddle its emotional impact.

Still, there are seeds of great ideas here. Behind the album’s pantomime of romantic turmoil are perceptive insights into young love and the ways that inexperience can blur the boundary between liberation and loneliness. The solitude that appeals to Birdy on “Voyager” quickly sours on “Loneliness,” complicating her desire for freedom with some nascent emotional maturity. Unfortunately, she has little space to explore that nuance when the lyrics are either laboriously literal (“I said I didn’t miss you, but I lied”) or vague and abstract (“Is the future like the past?”). The album’s strongest songs—including “The Otherside,” with its playful syntax, and “Little Blue,” which contains some of the album’s best lines—match the delicateness of their arrangements with the subtlety of their lyrics.

Young Heart feels largely untethered to reality, or to any illuminating specifics of the real-life breakup that Birdy says inspired it. But the decision to strip the album of any signs of contemporary life, while not always executed smoothly, feels intentional. Birdy’s tableaus of love and fate aren’t populated primarily by dating apps and devices and technological noise, but by idealized pastoral scenes that remove the album from time. The lyrics that open the album signal Birdy’s escapism, as she recounts “lying in the grass” and “watching satellites,” rare vestiges of modernity that, on Young Heart, quickly give way to visions of the cosmos and the sea. A self-proclaimed voyager, Birdy spends little time dwelling on the specifics of her heartbreak or fully mapping the album’s emotional landscape, instead embracing the bliss of escape.

Label: Atlantic Release Date: April 30, 2021 Buy: Amazon

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