Sye Elaine Spence has released new single “Repeat” / “1964” today, after premiering the A-side at PureVolume and the B-side at PopMatters. Spence’s new material has scored her comparisons to Joanna Newsom, Björk and Nina Simone.
Spence’s simple, yet beautiful folk-inflected 2014 EP Bloom received praise at outlets from Essence to Pigeons & Planes and continues to captivate listeners.
In 2008, she began collaborating with artists and producers in New York City in efforts to begin a career as a professional songwriter. But in doing so, she discovered a passion for becoming an artist herself. She released a bevy of songs between 2010 and 2012, ranging from pop rock to soul. Gigging between New York and Atlanta, Spence took a brief step away from music at the end of 2012. “I felt like a hamster in a spinning wheel. I was writing songs, releasing them, making some small buzz and gigging but there was no true fulfillment or purpose behind it. I needed to step back to remember what it was that I was searching for. I needed to feel eight years old again.”
This break, which permeated personal realms, resulted in a move from New York to Atlanta and a chance meeting with folk multi-instrumentalist Michael Lesousky. It was with Lesousky that Spence returned to her roots as a writer and a poet. Collaborating for months, choosing scenic and serene locations to create, the two stumbled upon a simple, quiet sound that supported Spence’s simile laden lyrics and hushed vocals. Of the 10 songs written by the pair in spring 2013, four were brought to a quaint pond house in Athens, Ga., to be recorded.
The four-track set, Bloom, begins with its title track, featuring a softly plucked banjo as the sole accompaniment. This instrumental arrangement is constant throughout the EP, continuing into Spence’s cover of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love,” which recalls the similar GRAMMY-winning 2011 version released on Corinne Bailey Rae’s The Love EP. With a delivery that regularly hangs behind the beat, Spence’s take on the classic comes across as relaxed and romantic. In contrast, third track “You” feels more urgent, with the repeated line “I just wanna love you” growing in volume along with the eighth-note banjo countermelody as the song climaxes.
In addition to its lovestruck feel, Bloom evokes the sound of summertime, with light instrumentation and twee arrangements. While earlier tracks include references to fireflies and shorelines, closing track “Long Live The Summertime” is the most obvious contributor to the idea. Its lyrics are full to the brim with summery references, including barbecue, sweet tea and ice cream; as the song closes, a flock of birds tweet as they fly into the distance.
As evidenced in Bloom, and in her brand-new single “Repeat” / “1964,” Spence is a storyteller. With every pluck of the acoustic accompaniment, a truthful narrative of love and pain is exposed.