Reviews//Present Tense

(Long Form)

Fenris

A big fan of Becci's sometimes soaring, sometimes ethereal first album, I was looking forward to the 2020 release of her second album for months before it dropped. And honestly, I wish I had some dramatic introduction here, in which I'd say something to build tension, like "I didn't know if it would hit me the way Fragmentality did," so then I could have a big "BUT THEN" payoff in which I finally listened to Present Tense and omg, it was great. That'd be a complete fiction, though. I had every confidence that this album would be incredible, and it is; in Present Tense, Becci has delivered a start-to-finish masterclass of songwriting and composition, and that is completely on brand because she is, quite simply, a creative force of nature.  

 

The album starts with Being Human, an immediately atmospheric and kind of uneasy existential musing which just sort of opens up at around the 1:40 mark before resolving on characteristic cleverly layered vocal harmonies. I also felt this quiet tension in the tracks Deconstruct and Conditional. These tracks in particular have a few common traits: an array of textures and instrumentation add up to paint us a kind of brooding dreamscape of a song, through which the vocals - sometimes soft, sometimes pleading - walk us through some soul-searching lyrics. I'm a fan of music in this style generally, so for me these songs were easy ones to connect with. 

I also need to particularly highlight The Sound Of Cats, an easy candidate for my top 10 songs of 2020 and one which I tear up upon listening to upon maybe 1 in 4 playbacks. I could fill this entire review with how ridiculously beautiful this track is, but I won't. What I will say is that it reflects Becci as I understand her both as a musician and as a person: the song is simultaneously otherworldly yet human, vulnerable yet strong, and achingly, wonderfully honest. I love that the lyrics present us with a visual slice of life in one verse ("Rainbow chalk on dirty glass/ Fingerprints from tiny hands") before leading us to the searching softness of "I still hear you/ I still care." Swan Song, another masterpiece, shares some characteristics with The Sound Of Cats: they are haunting confessional tracks with some incredible imagery, they make expert use of shifting dynamics to really hammer home the emotional range of the lyrics, and I seem to chop a lot of onions when they're playing. 

The track Focus, though. Even within an album of this calibre, this one stands out. This is someone baring her soul and challenging you to listen; a hypnotic riff and beautifully melancholy vocal melody give way to unflinchingly honest spoken word lyrics which remind us that this artist is as much a wordsmith as a bewilderingly accomplished musician. This track took me through nostalgia, regret, friendship, fear, grief and self awareness within the space of five and a half minutes. Like the album as a whole: what a journey. 

Kate Morvern Reid
Celtic Music Radio

The first time I heard ‘The Things They Say About Love’ every single hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I felt every word in my bones. The chilly, delicate, Icelandic vocals coupled with evocative, ethereal programming (the girls at NovaSound have done a beautiful job) make for a very striking song. I immediately hit repeat. It takes courage to write an album like this.

 

We go on an adventure through Becci’s amygdala; her deepest, darkest anxieties, doubts and fears. There are some difficult passages to listen to, with grating accompaniments and jarring vocals, but the over-riding feeling is one of acceptance and peace [Sound of Cats, Swan Song, Through These Eyes] and simply being ‘present’.

 

She deals with difficult themes [mental health, parenthood, grief, being, loss, love] with her trademark humour and frankness: ‘He sharpens my edges’ ‘You want to talk about Mental Health? Get off Facebook. Make a statement.’ ‘Is this you at your full engagement?’ ‘What’s the cost of the weans we make to replace us?’ ‘Are we just singing, dancing, selfish pr*cks talking pish? Probably.’

 

She lets us peer right into her soul and doesn’t even flinch. This album is a challenge to the listener to examine his/her values - to check that we are living the way we want to live, the way we need to live, the way we should live in today’s society. There is an open-ness in the music that draws you in and makes you sit up and pay attention to the lyrics.

 

This is music for anyone who understands what it is to be female and a parent. Some days we are screaming on the inside. Some days we are serene. Some days we feel it all. Some days we feel nothing at all. I’m not saying there aren’t dads who feel like this, I just know that women talk more about it. The bold juxtaposition of fragility and strength, feeble and fierce, uncertain and confident; the stripping back to muscle and bone of being a new mum shines out of every bar. We are warriors. Weary warriors, but warriors no less. Stand out track : Focus.

Callum Rae

Present Tense.

 

Intimate, uncompromising, scary, hypnotic, raw, compelling, wise, instructive, perceptive, conflicted and connected are some of the words I free associate as I listen to the album for the first few times.

The songs each having their own unique sonic world to inhabit also interact as a deeper narrative emotionally throughout the album. If you can find time to listen to the album as a whole then you will understand exactly what I mean. This is not easy listening, this is a beautifully honest work driven by a questing artist not by commerce.

 

Lyrically Becci's lyrics could be classed as belonging to the "confessional" singer songwriter genre due to her uncompromising honesty and truth in all her lyrics. However there is none of the cloying, chocolate box sentimentality that has marred this genre of writing in Present Tense. These are the lyrics of a strong, committed artist on her own heroic path. While finding all of her lyrics incredible in their range, power and variety, I was particularly moved by the tour de force that is Focus. The mix and delivery and emotion of lyrics, melody and spoken word on this song had tears flowing on more than one occasion.

 

Musically using a mix of natural instruments, samples, beats and sonic textures Becci has created a separate world for each of the thirteen songs. The vocal parts and harmonies are superb but never overdone. Moving and weaving in and around the lead vocal they add both colour and emphasis where and when required. The use of repeat patterns using both guitar and keyboard maintained and supported the overall dream like hypnotic quality and flavour on each song they were featured on while the careful use of beats and samples and effects enabled the individual worlds of each song to unfold as the lyrical narratives progressed. This album defies genre definition. It is both too rich, too wise and too holistic for that. You will hear hints of a bewildering range of genres (folk, indie, trip hop, psychedelia, country, pop, spoken word etc) running through this album but not one dominates. The music is there to serve the requirements of the songs. That is the only criteria. There is such an amazing sense of space in this album yet there appears to be nothing at all missing, an amazing feat in  itself, Present Tense is a beautifully intimate work that informs and embraces us all through the uncompromising honesty and talent of the artist. You will love it like I do I am sure.

Dave Hammond

Smelly Flower Pot

I remember enthusing about ‘Fragmentality’, an album by Glasgow based Becci Wallace, a few years ago to a work colleague. When he asked me what the music was like, after a pause I replied ‘I dunno. But it’s really good’. Not exactly an in-depth assessment from a wanna be music blogger. Anyway, Becci has a new album due out at the beginning of November- here’s my efforts to describe it in a little more detail. The album is called ‘Present Tense’ and it’s bloody good. There, that should do it…

In the years since Becci released Fragmentality, she’s had two children, set up song writing retreats for other locally based artists, produced a series of podcasts featuring females involved in the music industry and worked as a lecturer at the University of West Scotland. Somehow, she’s also managed to find time to write and record her new album. Musically more varied than its predecessor, it still features some of the trip hop beats and spacey arrangements that were prominent on the debut while adding in a variety of settings to her heart-on-sleeve, at times emotionally raw lyrics. Some songs are more stripped back featuring haunting piano and voice or layered harmonies, as with the opening two tracks, while the hypnotic beats make a first appearance on ‘The Things They Say About Love’. A feature throughout the album is Becci’s singing which can veer between gently persuasive and passionately pleading, often in the same song, and isn’t afraid to step outside these confines, as with the vocal whoop on this track that startles on first listen before bedding in as an essential part of the song a few listens on.

‘Swan Song’ is acoustically driven, a stuttering beat entering the fray along with a spoken word piece that takes the song to its conclusion. There’s a duet on ‘Coloured In’ with Bryan McFarland which also stands out, not least because of the interweaving lead vocals and harmonies. The album title perhaps gives us some idea of the lyrical content, with many songs appearing to examine the trials and tribulations, the ups and downs of balancing life as a mother, partner and creative artist. This is highlighted perfectly by the singing and spoken word pieces that wrap around each other on ‘Conditional’, as if two voices are sounding at the same time, attempting to make sense of the situation. There is anguish and anxiety at times, but there’s also tenderness and positivity.

‘Petal’ has a lovely keyboard underpinning more intertwining, multi-tracked voices that are gently uplifting, while ‘Focus’ features a rap that’s an outpouring of feelings, emotions and explanations juxtaposed with a gorgeous, swelling instrumental that hits the emotional hot spot.

After starting the album with three largely piano led tracks, the last three tracks are mainly acoustic driven and continue the themes of juggling the emotional with the practical and coming to some sort of understanding on how to achieve equilibrium. They bring this honest, emotional roller coaster of an album to a very satisfying close.