Music Review: Born in the Woods Pairs Folk and Electronic Music

By Sydney Maynard, NYU Florence student

It may come as a surprise that Florence has a pretty large contemporary music scene. Personally, I had never thought about looking into Italian contemporary artists until about two weeks ago, and I have found some great stuff. A lot of the Italian artists that sing in English sound similar to bands I already listen to (for instance, the band ‘Any Other’ from Milan sounds a bit like British singer Kate Nash). The Florentine artist I’ve been listening to for the past two weeks is BIRTHH (19-year-old Alice Bisi). Bisi’s debut album, Born in the Woods, was released March 18 of this year and she made an international splash at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas the following day. She was named one of the top 100 artists to watch at the festival by NPR. Bisi is scheduled to play in Florence this November!

On first listen, Born in the Woods sounds suitable for a night drive. Bisi’s voice is calming and the music, a combination of analog instruments and electronic beats, is mellow for the most part. The overall sound pairs perfectly with cruising around in the dark, with nothing but headlights and the occasional streetlight illuminating the way. When listening while focused on the lyrics, however, the album is a lot darker than it initially seems. It becomes about despair and hopelessness, about feeling lost and having nowhere to turn. Bisi’s lyrics are like the pages that the darkest pages of my journal would write. This album is a 180 degree turn from her previous work as ‘Oh! Alice’, but the folk influence of that project is still here: this album sounds like a collection of dark folk lyrics set to electronic music.

In the very first track, “Prelude for the Loveless,” Bisi sings: “I try to bleed out all my venom, but my veins are flumes that crush your dreams/I’m both your savior and your terror, and you just cannot get rid of me.” There is a bittersweet moment of hope when she sings, “I try to breathe out all my poison/My air was made to stifle you.” Bisi can cleanse herself, but in doing so she must suffocate someone else. The lyrics of “Chlorine” sound like everything I’ve ever thought but don’t want to voice – albeit a lot more graphic – when I can’t get someone out of my head. The message is clear: I might be spiraling out of control, but I would rather be helpless than ask for your help. My favorite line in the song is “You just pretend you’re a saint but you’re a godless preacher.” In “Wraith,” Bisi hauntingly sings, “I’ll be poison in your blood.” In “Prelude for the Loveless,” she was trying to rid her own blood of poison; now she has intoxicated someone else. She mentions that she left her senses and her love in the other room. She is just a ghost of herself. “(Bahnhof)” is the most unique song on the album in that it sounds the most like Bisi’s Oh! Alice work. It utilizes acoustic guitar and the whole thing is very raw and unedited. It sounds like a demo. The song fades into white noise and then there is 15 seconds of complete silence before the song ends.

Here are the ten tracks ranked according to my preference (with 1 being the highest):

  1. Chlorine
  2. Prelude for the Loveless
  3. Senses
  4. Wraith
  5. (Bahnhof)
  6. For the Heartless
  7. Interlude for the Hopeless
  8. If You Call Me Love
  9. Interlude for the Lifeless
  10. Queen of Failureland