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Light Sleeper is an intimate portrait of Bess Atwell

"Light Sleeper"

Release date: 24 May 2024
Bess Atwell Light Sleeper cover
22 May 2024, 09:00 Written by Emma Way

2021's sophomore album Already, Always was the perfect introduction to a new confessional voice.

Its follow-up, Light Sleeper, sees Brighton singer-songwriter Bess Atwell coming into her own, reflecting on how she acknowledged emotion for the first time without the constraints of antidepressant medication. Where pain is present, sadness is expected to follow, yet Atwell spends time appreciating the ability to emote instead of feeling overwhelmed by it.

The delicate melodies of Already, Always were wistfully relevant during its lockdown release, encompassing themes of longing, dependency, and discussions of life and death – all heavy topics for the release. The singer-songwriter, signed to Lucy Rose’s Real Kind record label, also featured songs depicting a certain supermarket, complex emotional exchanges, and an overall vulnerability.

The 2021 track "Time Comes in Roses" saw Atwell singing the poignant lyric: “I’m scared of sleeping and I don’t know why, how it dances you into a lonely night,” which I feel the need to reflect back on, given the closing and title track, "Light Sleeper", where Atwell voices: “I’m ready to be a light sleeper again, to wake up and feel everything.” Light Sleeper is the singer-songwriter’s experience of coming off antidepressants and what follows with that decision to feel everything and anything. My favourite songwriting quirk of Atwell’s is her use of domesticated animal metaphors, a cat even featured on the cover of her last album. In "I Am Awake" she compares her bark to her bite, as if she was a dog. “You're my sweet puppy, is man's best friend on a lead?” she earlier questioned in 2021’s "All You Can Do".

On a surface level, the melancholy strum of a slow acoustic guitar can come across as another translator for yet more sad songs, yet Atwell tenderly works on herself beneath its topline, where more complexities also lie, refusing to change for the acceptance of others on tracks such as the steadily-paced "Fan Favourite", even taking on crunchy guitars in "Release Myself" for a change in pace. Little additional musicianship is required apart from the flutters of light strings or synth lines.

Bess Atwell assembled her third album with well-known producer and musician Aaron Dessner of The National and Big Red Machine fame. Working with the likes of Taylor Swift and Gracie Abrams, Dessner seems the perfect fit for the intimate portrait within Light Sleeper. Recorded at the intimate surroundings of Dessner’s Long Pond studio in upstate New York, the producer originally posted about one of Atwell’s songs on Instagram in late 2022. The pair soon met for the first time at a festival and discussed recording an album together.

"The Weeping" touches on the complexities of home life for Atwell, who had a distinctive upbringing; her sister Lola has autism, and not long after the writing of the album, Atwell also discovered she was autistic. The diagnosis allowed the singer-songwriter to tie up a lot of loose ends, even within her writing, even within "The Weeping", admitting pre-diagnosis: “At least if no one else does, I know what I mean.”

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