Album Review: Hailey Beavis – I’ll Put You Where The Trombone Slides

[Ok Pal; 2022]

The story of Hailey Beavis’ musical journey is an unfortunately familiar one. Lured in by hope and promise in her early 20s, the Norfolk-born songwriter was put through the wringer of the music industry, spending seven years of her life recording material all in the hope that her career would take off. A breaking point was reached and Beavis eventually cut her losses and left. Since then she’s worked to her strengths: she found a reinvigoration from working with children again, set up a regular live music night, and co-founded OK Pal records so that from here on in her output would be under her own control. It’s a familiar tale, but at least this time it comes with a mildly happy ending of sorts.

After the release of her debut EP Whatever You Feel I Do Too back in 2020, Beavis has finally accumulated her life and experiences into her debut album, I’ll Put You Where the Trombone Slides. Not so much a threat or promise, the title comes from Beavis’ desire to bring everything together. “Making an album seems like the perfect compromise. A place to put it all. I like the idea of all of this abstract emotion perpetually suspended in the act of the trombone being played,” the now Edinburgh-based artist explains. The album feels like both an ending and a beginning; call it a new chapter or a fresh start, but it’s patently clear that the album is Beavis wanting to exorcise demons, reconnect with the world around her, and stand firmly on her own two feet.

Opening track “Anything That Shines” sets the scene, with Beavis detailing a life of distractions and disappointments. “I was broken at 20 / Robbed and left empty / My little ship started sinking / That’s when I really took to drinking,” she details over a tinkering toybox melody and mildly snarling guitar huffs. It’s like both a self-portrait and a “previously on” section, Beavis catching the listener up and setting the scene. It’s also arguably the finest moment on the album, full of dazzling sunshine, personality, and colour – a high it never reaches afterwards.

The album’s next best moments do come in the tracks that follow though. The finesse of all the interlocking instruments on the spacey “Sinking Sunset” speaks to all the time Beavis spent cutting her teeth in the Edinburgh folk scene. The sweet strings on “Shipwreck” accentuate the optimism of the song’s message that “there’s a lot of hope in a song,” an ethos she carries throughout the album. It’s hard to doubt Beavis has put the work in here, drawing in swathes of instruments and making sure to use the studio as an instrument too. These songs are her “all in” bets, holding out hope that more is more and less is only to be saved for those moments building to something bigger.

Sometimes all these sounds make for sonic enjoyment, even when the songwriting seems a little lost in the colour. The mystical hum of the strings on “Crow” married to the just off-centre guitar notes give it an imperfect folksy hue, while the yelps in the background on “All It Takes” add a poignancy to the clapping and drum stomp. Elsewhere, however, it’s not as rewarding, like the synth pulse and clatter of drums on “Shark Bite” that rings empty despite all the noise, or the lumbering “New Heat” which never quite blossoms like it hopes to.

Seven years in the making, it can be easy to forgive Beavis for letting her debut album run a little long, but the pairing of the two longest tracks at the album’s back end make for a drawn-out final section that sinks where it should soar. “Happier” fares that bit better of the two songs; its regal strings and layered voices become like sunshine breaking through the clouds, carrying the song’s message of healing. Aforementioned “New Heat”, despite all its bleeps and electronic squiggles, is flat and lifeless though, and together the tracks suck the life from the album at a point where interest wanes.

The springy carefree approach from her 2020 EP has morphed into something more like a determined, rigid attitude here – a desire to get everything right or else. It’s evident in the sometimes overcooked lyrics, for instance, where Beavis’ desire to be as descriptive as possible muddies the view instead of enhancing it.

I’ll Put You Where the Trombone Slides still feels like an album to root for though, despite its shortcomings. It’s full of colour and detail, handsome piano and guitar figures, as well as gentle-hearted slices of personal wisdom (“In being something for somebody else / you’re beginning to be yourself”). There are hints of endlessly influential figures like Kate Bush and Björk, but also echoes of My Brightest Diamond and tUnE-yArDs. Above all though, it’s Hailey Beavis, having taken all these years to come into her own. It’s just the start though, as on her debut album the story only feels like it’s beginning.