Album Review: Henry Jamison – Tourism EP

[Color Study; 2020]

Heartbreak brings with it bad habits, be it excessive overthinking, depressive episodes, or isolation. Vermont musician Henry Jamison knows this feeling of anguish all too well, and it’s the focus of his new Tourism EP. Over five tracks, he muses over what went wrong and led to the breakup of his relationship, and how the act of touring across the world “led to a dissolution of the self.”

On the surface this might seem trite material for a record, as it’s hardly new territory for a musician to sing of heartache coupled with an existential dilemma. Jamison, however, does something quite remarkable and makes the whole experience both a soothing and considered listen. Perhaps it’s the modesty of the songs, never overstaying their welcome or over-wringing any element.

Opening track “Still Life” bursts open with widescreen shots of bright noise, and even though it might sound ready for a stadium, it’s still remarkably unassuming. Piano flickers add a spring to the song’s step, while Jamison takes a moment of pause to try find the meaning of life’s actions in a dream. “And what did you dream? / That I wrote a song / And what did it mean? / That I got it wrong, ” he muses before quietly adding, “I don’t know.” It’s a little moment, but it captures that feeling of thinking you have something tangible and meaningful in front of you, before you realise it’s probably nothing. After all, it’s just a dream.

Or perhaps Jamison makes Tourism a delight because he’s casually managed to wrangle an impressive guest list. Each of the five tracks has vocal contributions from a different musician, from Lady Lamb to Ed Droste to Darlington. Sometimes the touches are delicate and hidden, and they more often than not add to the vocal harmonies (which are easy to take for granted on first glance). Joseph (on “Still Life”) and Lady Lamb (on “Orchardist”) are that little more noticeable, often sounding like that encouraging voice at the back of Jamison’s head. On the latter, Lady Lamb echoes his declaration of “not I,” adding to the determined feeling the song ushers in.

Musically, Jamison also paints lush tapestries with a wealth of instruments. On “Green Room” the guitar and banjo tinker away like busy clockwork underneath ethereal, breathy vocals. On the aforementioned “Orchardist” the first part of the song makes a very obvious and welcome nod to the original Twin Peaks theme (which matches well with the small town factory Jamison describes). The title track seems set to be a mushy, everyday piano ballad, but instead the instrumentation morphs into synth hums, banjo plucks, and soft accordion wheezes. It helps add colour to the words: “I’m in bed thinking about the things she said / It’s not helping,” Jamison exhaling with an air of defeat, lost in that often-described endless loop of trying to find the moment it all went wrong. A lesser musician would have made a song like “Tourism” saccharine at best, but Jamison knows his strengths and works them well here. 

But perhaps what makes these five tracks so enjoyable is the unspoken happy ending; Jamison and his partner have since gotten back together and are currently hunkered down in quarantine together. Delightful news, no doubt, and it does not negate the EP’s strength. The five tracks capture Jamison working things out in what feels like real time at moments, and they will no doubt provide ample solace to listeners feeling similar heartbreak. Those suffering through aches of lost love could do much worse than have Tourism by their side.