There’s a certain amount of expectation that comes from an artist called Human Head, especially with regards to theme, and when the knee-jerk reaction to an emotionally confessional solo artist like this is to expect yet another overly-earnest emo / folk singer-songwriter, it does an enormous disservice to what this actually is. In reality, Human Head is the musical sobriquet of poet Joshua Jones, operating in a sonic landscape that delves into industrial and darker hip-hop tones, something that already makes this feel pretty individual within any UK alternative scene. As for debut EP Sorry, I Wasn’t Listening, that itself comes bearing a rather significant weight, bringing together Jones’ loves of poetry and music and the potential for cathartic storytelling that both have for something that with the right execution, could potentially be pretty special in just how unique it is.
Of course, that can be a rather loaded statement to attribute to a debut EP, but honestly, Sorry, I Wasn’t Listening really isn’t that far off, especially for just how well the individual strands of bleakness in its instrumental palette and in Jones’ writing come together and, in the right circumstances, create a real gut-punch of a listen. Throughout, Jones feels like an artist working without compromise and finding a way to collate all of his influences in a way that feels focused and singleminded, yet with enough variety and commendable brevity to never lose momentum even slightly. For a debut like this, it’s exactly how it should be executed, and the end results pay off handsomely.
But before getting to the core, foundational strength of the writing – something that a project like this really does live and die on – it’s worth noting the compositional strengths of Sorry, I Wasn’t Listening, which in themselves often go overlooked on these sorts of solo releases, but here serve as a near-perfect embodiment of the mood that Jones looks to cultivate, as well as showcasing a particularly wide breadth of influences and bringing them together with remarkable conciseness. The key strength of it all is how it doesn’t distract from the writing itself; when lyrics are placed more in the camp of poetry, it’s important to give them the majority of space to maneuvre, and that’s definitely the case here. There’s still depth and layering within them, like with the quaking bass and chimes of guitar on No One Lives Here Yet or the tapping beat of Look Shocked interspersed with chiptune bleeps and snippets of Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is A Place On Earth, but they’re there to accentuate Jones’ voice rather than overshadow it. There’s a distinct defiance to his natural Welsh accent, but that’s simultaneously wrapped up in unmistakable twinges of disenfranchisement and surliness, and paired with the stormy tableaux behind him can have real sonic power, despite how minimalist it all is. The only place it doesn’t really work is on opener Real Time, which tries for something closer to post-punk in its walls of bass and guitar, but placing Jones’ vocals deeper into the mix is a creative choice that doesn’t really work and saps some of the overall potency from it all.
And really, that’s the last thing a release like this should want, especially when there’s so much within the writing that needs to be paid attention to and forms such a robust emotional centerpiece across the entire EP. It’s not like mental ennui and anxiety is a new topic to be explored in music either, but framed around such a transitional event as graduating from university and the placelessness that follows when feeling so lost in the open world for the first time, that does drive itself in much deeper, especially for someone who has personally experienced those exact feelings. The emptiness and loneliness that comes even in a familiar setting on No One Lives Here Yet is palpable, as is Room To Haunt and its taking out the frustrations of the doldrums on loved ones who only want to help, while Intruders highlights how deeply the sense of self-doubt and imposter syndrome can set in, and how, despite the inevitability of assimilating and becoming just another face in the crowd, the weight of such a sense of directionlessness can be immense regardless. Conveyed in a very plain-spoken manner, Jones’ honesty and candour really does leave a considerable mark, and blended together with the instrumentation and production brings out even deeper layers of darkness that are enormously compelling throughout.
In terms of intention, it’s all pretty difficult to fault, and a couple of compositional hiccups here and there don’t even begin to detract from how much of a fascinating talent Jones is. In just five tracks, Sorry, I Wasn’t Listening establishes a potentially crucial new voice in UK music, bringing an openness and confessionalism in a way that never feels sugar-coated, but is never over-inflated either. It’s the sort of real-life affliction delivered to match that, and it’s hard to stress how crucial that feels when it’s as excellently, articulately crafted as this. This feels like the genesis of an essential new artist in the UK underground, and wherever Jones chooses goes from here, it’s going to worth keeping an eye out for where he ends up.
For fans of: Kate Tempest, Arab Strap, Massive Attack
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Sorry, I Wasn’t Listening’ by Human Head is released on 13th December on Beth Shalom Records.