Jasmine van den Bogaerde, better known as Birdy, gained stardom through her cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” in 2011, and soon after came out with her debut album “Birdy,” consisting exclusively of covers. I had listened to the album when it came out and really liked it, particularly her covers of “People Help the People” by Cherry Ghost, “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes and “Shelter” by The xx.
After that album, though, she seemed to slip under the radar, even though she came out with her sophomore album “Fire Within,” this time with original songs, in 2013. When I stumbled upon the news about her latest album, “Beautiful Lies,” which was released on March 25, I decided to give it a try and discovered that her talent has far surpassed and grown from her initial covers.
The indie pop album is 52 minutes long with 14 tracks. The opening track, “Growing Pains,” has East Asian influences, showcased further by the album cover with Bogaerde in a kimono, which seemed to be an arbitrary and unnecessary appropriation. The song is otherwise creative and dynamic, and is one of the few faster-paced songs that I liked. The album’s strength primarily lies in Bogaerde’s powerful vocals and, at times, the atmospheric instrumentals. The 19-year-old English artist particularly shines in her slower and more heartfelt songs.
The standout track was “Shadow,” with impressive vocals that hit the highest notes perfectly, putting the young singer in the realm of Florence Welch. The buoyant, rhythmic melody and instrumentals combine to create one of the most memorable songs on the album. “Save Yourself” has similarly dreamy vibes, with moving and heartfelt vocals and rich piano. “Take My Heart” is haunting and imaginative, particularly its instrumentals and echoing background vocals. “Lost It All” is another one of my favorites, its melody and lyrics especially moving. “Words” is also beautiful with rhythmic, pulsing instrumentals and a memorable melody.
“Unbroken” and “Deep End” are some of the most heartfelt and compelling piano ballads, again highlighting the singer’s strengths in her ethereal and atmospheric tracks. The lyrics of “Unbroken” are uplifting and hopeful: “Many moons will lighten the way / And sure this night will follow a day / And everything you once loved remains / Unbroken, unbroken,” fitting the empowering and optimistic theme of many of the songs, while others are darker and melancholic.
One of the most unique and distinct songs is “Lift”–it incorporates more folk influences as well as tribal instrumentals. Unfortunately, there were also a couple of songs that felt unimaginative and generic, such as “Silhouette” and “Wild Horses.” “Wild Horses” is one of the three singles and though I was not a fan of it overall, the lyrics were emboldening and confident: “There’s an angel / And he’s shaped like you, and I thought I knew him / There’s a window / And it’s dark inside, but the light was in it / This can’t be love if it hurts so much / I need to let go.”
Some songs were so indistinct that they seemed to blend together and the subject matter of much of the album is the same. The lyrics are simple and speak predominantly about heartbreak and growing up, but they are too often generic and uninspiring. However, there are a few striking lines in the midst of otherwise rather mundane lyrics, particularly in “Hear You Calling”: “Some mistakes are harder to recover from / And I miss the days I could take my make up and put a brave face on / Oh, my beautiful summer / How the winter makes me wonder where you’ve gone.”
The weakest parts of the album were the faster-paced songs. Though it is one of the three singles, “Keeping Your Head Up” felt rushed and messy, with the instrumentals and vocals not lining up in a way that was probably deliberate but worked against the song rather than making it more creative.
Here, Bogaerde again hits incredibly high notes, but unlike in her other songs, they are uncomfortable to listen to, especially when paired with the rushed pace of the song. “Hear You Calling,” though strong lyrically, had a similar problem with the vocals and had a generic melody as well.
“Beautiful Lies” is the concluding track but is surprisingly unremarkable. It was another one of the unmemorable songs, especially for the final and titular song. The lyrics, however, were meaningful and poignant: “Tell me beautiful lies / Cover my eyes with your hands / Just pretend we’re better / Turn out the light / There are no more surprises to come / Let’s be numb together.” The gentle but powerful violin in the track is also one of its strengths, but otherwise it fails to leave an impression.
“Beautiful Lies” certainly has some stellar tracks and Birdy’s beautiful voice, which is what struck me the most when I first listened to her years ago, is as rich and powerful as ever. She has a lot of potential as a songwriter, though her lyrics could be more creative and less repetitive.
The album is definitely worth checking out, particularly the slower piano ballads. Fans of artists like Florence Welch, Bat For Lashes, Lorde and Regina Spektor would find much to love in the album. There are many songs that I would take a pass on though and Birdy would excel even more if she emphasized and expanded on her main strengths as an artist. She has certainly come a long way from her debut as a young 14-year-old and will undoubtedly keep on growing.