Release Date 03/18/2022
(Self-Released) NACC, SubModern
It’s fitting that Babeheaven’s new album opens with a song about a car crash. What better – and more visceral – image than that to represent recent times, as we’ve all been unwitting passengers with a global pandemic, riding shotgun against our wills, careening into the abyss.
It’s not that Babeheaven (A.K.A. Londoners and lifelong friends, Nancy Andersen and Jamie Travis) want to be defined by recent events, it’s that they can’t help but be shaped by them, being in the unique position of having released both their debut and now its follow up during the past two years. “It’s really affected us, which is so frustrating,” they say. “It’s such a weird time to be a band.”
The pair wrote much of 2020’s Home For Now during the UK’s successive lockdowns. It was critically acclaimed, established them as a ‘One To Watch’ in The Guardian and also as revitalising trip-hop for the next generation. Nancy spent a lot of the creative process levelling up as a frontwoman, by taking singing lessons and trying to overcome her stage fright. She was conscious that she wanted to take up space, and be vocal about it, especially as one of the few visible young Black women in the alternative music sphere. But Babeheaven have only been able to perform that album live once. “And we had postponed it four times before that,” she says, still in disbelief.
It was especially frustrating that she felt she couldn’t fulfil her mission. “I really feel as though visibility is still not there for young, Black indie artists, and I’m so lucky to hold a corner of that world,” says Nancy. “But in a lot of ways I still feel like an imposter, like I'm not meant to be on stage. Which is why I wanted to focus on becoming more of a performer to reach wider audiences and see more young, Black people at gigs. And so to not be able to follow through with what I wanted to do, and what I was talking about, was strange.”
Understandably, Sink Into Me reflects the disengagement that comes after years of uncertainty, stop/starts and disappointments. Babeheaven are a band guided by mood over messaging, and as such their music is imbued with feelings of loneliness and disconnection. But there’s a central tension on the album: there’s disillusionment but, at the same time, a yearning for growth and evolution. It explores love and loss – in Nancy’s case, the death of two close family friends within a year of each other – but also the very human desire for comfort and connection. Sink into Sink Into Me and you may find it’s a healing balm, something to hold you when everything else is chaotic. “It hugs you in,” summarises Nancy, “like a warm embrace.”
The album is led by the singles ‘The Hours’ and ‘Don’t Wake Me’, which sublimely set out Babeheaven’s stall. The first track is a peppy, Stereolab-influenced whirl of dream-pop anchored by Andersen’s heavy-hearted vocals, her lyrics evoking the monotony of the past two years: “On and on the ordinary / days go by but I stay here right here”. The second, recalling Zero 7’s groovier moments, has an anthemic end-of-night chorus of “don’t wake me / I want to stay right here / I’m not alone”, about wanting to be in a lucid dream rather than face the everyday.
“Somehow, even when we're trying to write an upbeat song, it turns out to be downbeat,” laughs Jamie. But that doesn’t mean that it’s cold at all. “It’s quite a nourishing sound,” he continues, one evoking the late-Nineties era of the back-to-mine mix, William Orbit productions and bands like Air. Similarly, Babeheaven want to make cozy songs for the 4am cab ride home, or for bedding down in front of a log fire – you could go so far as to say they’re making chillout cool again. “People are so rude about easy listening but it’s the best,” says Nancy.
On Sink Into Me, they’ve distilled their influences into a style that is distinctly, definitively Babeheaven. “It was a conscious decision to move away from being a trip-hop bedroom-pop band,” says Jamie. “We did that on the last album; now it was time to try something different.” While the trip-hop references still burble under the surface; they no longer dominate. And it no longer sounds like their music came to life on a laptop; it’s widescreen, leaning into guitars with a coruscating krautrockurgency, and shading in the grey between pop, R&B, indie and electronica (Simon Byrt is again on co-production duties). While it’s subtly anthemic in places, it does so without losing any of the intimacy that makes them so special, putting them on a par with bands like The XX.
Notably this time Babeheaven could actually compose songs as a band in the studio together, along with Luca Mantero, Milo McGuire and Ned Smith, which ordinarily wouldn’t be unusual, but since they started has obviously been quite a challenge. “It was more organic,” says Jamie of the songwriting process, which happened fairly quickly, over six months in 2020. “It sounds ridiculous but we hadn’t been able to do that before.”
Nancy’s songwriting has come into its own, too. She nailed the vulnerability of new love so acutely on Babeheaven’s 2016 breakout track ‘Friday Sky’, a song she says people come up to her all the time to tell her how much it means to them. Sink Into Me’s lyrics are more open to interpretation. On the surface, the standout ‘Holding On’ sounds like it’s about losing the one you love – but it’s actually about losing her voice, which was the reason for one of those show postponements and a huge blow to her confidence. “It had never happened to me before, and I was depressed for a while after that,” she admits. On Sink Into Me, she’s never sounded better: her voice is siren-like, pulling you in with its sweetness when the undertow is gritty and dark. It sounds stunning entwined with the voice of Brooklyn rapper Navy Blue, on the transatlantic duet ‘Make Me Wanna’ – his thoughtful verses are a longing response to Nancy’s call for connection across the ocean.
Then there’s the track ‘Erase Me’, which Nancy says is “about the life cycle of a moth” but as a metaphor for the desperation to emerge from the chrysalis of the past few years, and to grow into something new. She wrote ‘4 Days’, meanwhile, on the fourth day after the passing of a family friend. The friend was close with her mother, who died when Nancy was young, bringing those feelings rushing back. “Losing my mum at a young age has impacted my life in so many ways,” she says, “but seeing how much loss there has been this year has really brought life and death into focus again for me. Loss is something that I'm used to, but it was still quite a shock.”
Nancy and Jamie, who’ve known each other since they were kids, have kept each other going all this time, “just by being friends,” says Jamie. “So many bands lose the friendship, or don't really hang out anymore. It’s important to be able to talk and be open with each other.” They’ve also brought in members of their vast creative London network to help with Sink Into Me, whether it’s Molly Goddard, who makes Nancy’s wonderfully floaty tulle stage outfits, or Nancy’s best friend Kesewa Aboah, sister of model Adwoa, whose striking black-and-white body print painting doubles as Sink Into Me’s album artwork.
The result is a huge step up for the band: despite all the hurdles in their path, they’ve encapsulated the past few years while making something universal. And their intention has never been clearer. “We're not trying to write hits,” says Jamie. “We're trying to write good songs that people can connect with.”