Best Girl Athlete – Best Girl Athlete
I feel like I should start this review with something of a disclaimer. When Best Girl Athlete’s debut album, Carve Every Word, dropped in 2015, I was instantly hooked. It remained on heavy rotation on my stereo, and I confidently named it my album of the year.
Fans and critics alike agreed with me, and the demand for record number two was high. Now two and a half years later, Best Girl Athlete – known to her friends as Katie Buchan – is back with her eponymous sophomore effort.
I hesitated slightly before pressing play; I’d liked the first couple of singles, but after such a well-received debut, would the record as a whole succumb to the clichéd “difficult second album” syndrome? There was only one way to find out…
From the first few seconds of opener Baby Come Home, it’s apparent that this is not the same Best Girl Athlete. While still sharing writing duties with her father Charley, Katie is now 18 and has, understandably, a different perspective on life.
The acoustic guitars which were so prevalent on the first album are still there, but this time around stabs of distortion fight through alongside a touching rap from rising Scottish star of the scene, Jackill, which deals with the near loss of his wife and child.
Yes, you read that right: there’s a rap on the new Best Girl Athlete record. And it works wonderfully.
That theme of taking the familiar – the soaring string arrangements and melodic piano accompaniments – and mixing them with something new and different is a constant throughout the album. Different Face leads us into a darker realm than we’ve been in before, and by its end brooding synths undercut a swirl of melodic strings to build to a rousing crescendo.
I’m hooked again.
Up next are Cigarette Dreams and In the Morning, another two tracks which showcase the evolution in song-writing approach taken by Katie and her band. More synths, strings, electric guitars come together in glorious harmony as the album heads onwards.
As Katie exclaims “I’m not here for your pleasure, I’m not a little toy” on mid-album highlight Join the Masons, it becomes apparent again just how much time has passed between Best Girl Athlete albums. There’s a quiet intensity to the track, and the lyrics have a sting of truth to them; the hint of experiences gathered first-hand in the intervening years. With a chorus of “let me go and live my life for now, set me free and I won’t tell a soul” it’s an affecting, thought-provoking piece of music.
As the album segues into its back half, Silver City is another triumph. An engaging piano groove leads the listener into one of the album’s more “traditionally BGA-sounding” songs. It’s easy to fall into and become lost in the sumptuous sea of piano and strings. Lucy follows next, a track that feels like it could sit happily on the playlists on BBC Radio 1, 2 or 6. Quite how it’s possible to craft such an engaging song that would appeal to such a broad demographic escapes me, but Katie and her band have done it.
You might already be familiar with next song, In Your Head. The first track to be released from the album, the band are accompanied by Leeds outfit The Haggis Horns (a favourite of Mark Ronson) for a driving anthem of defiance against the norm. It’s a powerhouse track, and it’s easy to see why this was the song they chose to introduce the world to the “new” Best Girl Athlete.
The final two tracks – Everything Must Go and Sometimes – finish off the album with memorable, lilting melodies, gentle piano, passionate strings and twangs of guitar. It’s the perfect way to close out the record.
There’s not a single misstep on Best Girl Athlete. Pleasingly it’s not a carbon copy of the debut, and feels like a natural evolution of what has come before. Every song stands on its own and yet is also an integral part of a cohesive whole. It’s an album that will appeal to the masses but speaks to the listener on a personal level.
While many of the songs on Carve Every Word likely drew on Charley’s journey through life for inspiration, on Best Girl Athlete the subject matter feels more personal to Katie. This is an album that deals with young love and heartbreak, truths and deceit, joy and despair; themes that every young adult can identify with; without ever descending into parody or farce.
It’s an honest, sincere album. An album that deserves repeat listens. An album that is a strong contender for topping that album of the year list once more.
Words by Eoin Smith.
Fit Like Records website