'Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is
a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.'
– Jorge Luis Borges
In the hazy aftermath of its completion, London-based singer-songwriter Sophie Jamieson noticed that water was a recurring theme throughout her long-awaited debut album Choosing. Though it was never a central part of her thinking while writing the eleven songs that make up the album, water appears in various forms, from raging storms with lashing rain, through the eeriness of vast expanses of still water, to overflowing bathtubs and the creeping ripples of a broken surface. Even in more ambiguous terms, it feels ever-present, the album detailing Sophie’s own long and punishing struggle against the tide, constantly reflecting on the binary choice of whether we allow ourselves to sink or choose to push ourselves above the surface.
Released via her new home at Bella Union, Choosing is a strikingly personal document of a journey from a painful rock bottom of self-destruction, to a safer place imbued with the faint light of hope. Focusing on the bare bones of each song, and taking inspiration from the direct and melodic work of songwriters such as Elena Tonra, Sharon Van Etten, and Scott Hutchison, it’s an album that sings openly of longing and searching, of trying, failing, and trying again – and always and throughout, the strength of love in so many varying forms.
Following on from the pair of EPs she released in 2020, Choosing finds its own shape by a subtle reforming of Jamieson’s sound. Where those EPs flirted with playful experimentation, here the overriding sound is both organic and simpler – live drums, bass, cello, and piano are used across the album – allowing space for Sophie’s mesmerising voice to take the spotlight, the songs delivered with the most direct and intimate impact.
Sophie describes the songs on those two EPs as “black holes” and while Choosing covers similar ground it never takes its eye away from what lies beyond, never fully releases its grip even when everything is telling her to let go. “The title of this album is so important,” Sophie explains. “Without it, this might sound like another record about self-destruction and pain, but at heart, it’s about hope, and finding strength. It’s about finding the light at the end of the tunnel, and crawling towards it.”
The journey of the album starts with a bad drunken night (‘Addition’) and ends with another (‘Long Play’) but the passage between is anything but stable, never linear. The opening six tracks take us on a blurry search for home in the wrong places: lead track ‘Sink’ was written as a love letter to alcohol amid an increasing dependence upon it, informed by a recurring image Sophie had of herself on a desert island, a quiet, calm place that was too good to be true. Throughout, the voice is underpinned by a playful piano line that lingers with an eerie sense of detachment before expanding into a wide ocean that engulfs the tired, repeated line: “I don’t need you to sink me”. “Sink presents a purgatory between being able to choose and begging not to be pulled under,” Sophie explains. “It's about teetering on the edge, looking over the cliff, asking not to be pulled over before realising you only have to choose not to jump.”
Produced and engineered by long-time collaborator Steph Marziano (Ex:Re, Lapsley, Hayley Williams) and mixed by Isabel Gracefield, Choosing often feels like it's on the precipice, ready to collapse at any moment, before finding strength in simply never giving in. By allowing just a slither of light in, it finds a new path for itself, one that begins to move from the depths of despair to something kinder. “The few times I have listened to this album from start to finish, I have realised that there is a huge amount of love in it,” Sophie says. “I think there is a strong potential for real, healthy, healing love. It’s like a line of relief that runs along through all the songs. It’s never unleashed, it hasn’t yet learned how, but it’s present in an underlying tension and potential.”
That tension fills Choosing with a dramatic strength, one which asks the listener to look deep within their own selves, to show them that they can take whatever pain they’re experiencing, and choose, to some extent, how they let it affect them; whether they let it burn them down or whether they choose to look it straight in the face. “The songs are bursting with something, and that energy just needs to be reshaped into love for the self,” Sophie explains. “I can say this from a place of having learned now how to love and care for myself. The love that reverberates through this album is like the green shoots of something I have happily learned to nurture into my present day.” By never trying to hide behind the music, never flinching despite the size of the journey that lies ahead, Sophie Jamieson has crafted an album of genuine durability. It might not sound hopeful but the small ripples of hope – and love – continue only to spread wider and wider.
- Words by Tom Johnson