Holly Humberstone, “The Walls Are Way Too Thin”

On her second EP, the British songwriter explores the warmth and intimate depths of negative space.
Holly Humberstone, “The Walls Are Way Too Thin”

On her second EP, the British songwriter explores the warmth and intimate depths of negative space.

Words: Austin Nguyen

November 08, 2021

Holly Humberstone
The Walls Are Way Too Thin

Loneliness turns into something rich and palpable in Holly Humberstone’s music. On “Haunted House,” the opening track of her The Walls Are Way Too Thin EP, there’s enough silence between the piano chords to hear a fire crackling in the background, the pedal lifting as the notes soften. You can hear each inhale before her voice enters, frayed and quivering with nostalgia while she struggles to part with memories. Negative space—the absence of a lover or friend, of sound—possesses its own warmth, and on her second EP, the 21-year-old British artist explores its most intimate depths.

As with her last EP, Humberstone isn’t afraid to branch out and take risks on Walls. The arrangements feel fuller, more textured, without becoming overcrowded—there are fewer ballads, more Auto-Tune and muffled static, and even a bit of Moroder throb. “Scarlett” edges into ’80s synthpop catharsis, with guitar strums drizzling down to mix with watercolor synths. On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum is “Thursday,” which starts off with the lilting, mumbled guitar strums of Phoebe Bridgers, but becomes enveloped in a blurry synth bubble that Kacy Hill could have made.

Humberstone’s songwriting, however, remains the EP’s centerpiece: understated vignettes of families drifting apart, boyfriends blowing her off, love waning into apathy. None of this is foreign territory for the singer-songwriter, but she revives each story with new dimensions. On the title track, she demands her worth without any reservations, flipping from detached to anguished on a dime. “Friendly Fire” picks up where last year’s “Falling Asleep at the Wheel” left off in terms of emotional blankness, but then resigns to its mournful aftermath: “If I hurt you, it’s just friendly fire.”

The Walls Are Way Too Thin isn’t without its flaws. When she was preparing her debut EP, Humberstone said she wanted to write “tattoo lyrics,” though when that ethos is applied here, they can sometimes come off more like Instagram captions: convenient and superficial relatability. “Thursday” is the most blatant case in point, its teen-angst pre-chorus feeling tailor-made for Polaroids of an overcast sky (“I was kind of hopin’ you were kind of broken too”).

But when Humberstone takes time to sketch in the details, the results are devastating, as in “Please Don’t Leave Just Yet.” Desperate and tepid, the song reads like a crumpled love note, each problem in the relationship delivered in a defeated sing-speech, as if she couldn’t bear to look the recipient in the eye. Then, the undoing, her insecurities unraveling in real time: “I don’t wanna need your love anymore, but I just do.” The atmosphere is as warm and slow as a heartbeat, unspooling with the grainy fuzz of a Super 8 tape while piano keys ring out like wind chimes. It’s Humberstone at her best: unburdened by the need to be another voice-of-a-generation and unhurried to find a way to heal.