It’s been twelve years since English singer-songwriter Jasmine van den Bogaerde, known for her work under the stage name Birdy, broke through with her cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love.” That song, along with a self-titled album containing other covers of popular songs, launched a career for the daughter of a writer and a concert pianist, mostly in writing songs for television shows like Vampire Diaries and movies like The Hunger Games.
For the next ten years, she released three albums, Fire Within, Beautiful Lies, and Young Heart. They were all praised for their poetic lyrics and hauntingly beautiful vocals. Though they’ve all fared well critically, Birdy is best known for her covers. In a testament to the power of consistency and perseverance, Birdy, now 27-years-old, hits a career-high with her newest project, Portraits, out tomorrow. Her confidence shines through in all aspects of this album, making it her most cohesive piece yet.
While Birdy’s 2021 album Young Heart mainly was focused on heartbreak, Portraits finds her reflecting on the past with reverence, not bitterness. Listening to the album feels like walking through a museum decorated to look like a girl’s bedroom, covered in notebooks, drawings, etc. Birdy is the docent at this museum, guiding the listener on a journey with her evocative lyrics. Each song is a vivid painting she has meticulously created, pouring her heart into it completely.
She refers to a “dusty room kept for a friend” on “Raincatchers,” a song she referred to in an Instagram post as being “about that idea and my younger self calling to the present me to remember her.” In “Ruins II,” she sings about “cracks in the ceiling” and “watching the walls move.” About the song “Your Arms,” she said, “I wrote this song for someone very close to me; it’s about the pain of forgetting things about someone you loved and lost but remembering being in their arms.” Portraits is steeped in nostalgia and, like a warm cup of tea, is entirely soothing.
The album opens with “Paradise Calling,“ about the start of a new love and the promise of something great. The majority of the songs then are more looking back on a former love that was lost. The last track, “Tears Don’t Fall,” bookends the album with a message of hope; “I know we’re hurting, but I don’t wish we never met, once you were my everything, I’ll never forget” – an uplifting conclusion.
It’s notable how many pop-leaning producers Birdy worked with on this album. The opening track, “Paradise Calling,“ an energetic 80’s inspired bop tinged with optimism and deep, rich vocals reminiscent of those of Kate Bush, was made with Anya Jones, a frequent collaborator of Little Mix, as well as King Ed, who was formerly a drummer for Florence & the Machine. “Heartbreaker” was made with Dan Priddy and Mark Crew, who have worked on several tracks with the electro-pop group Bastille. The album perfectly balances these upbeat dance hits and the classic Birdy piano ballads with songs like “Your Arms” and “Battlefield.” But even those songs feel elevated by stacked vocals and intricate harmonies.
More than just an album, Portraits is a work of art worth returning to. There’s something for everyone on it, and it can be listened to either alone in your room or running around with your friends.
Portraits is out tomorrow.
Words by Jesse Roth for Staged Haze