One of the brightest spots on the British music scene today is Callum Pitt, a thoughtful and immensely-talented singer-songwriter based in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Inspired by such esteemed artists as Elliott Smith, Julien Baker, Adrianne Lenker, Sufjan Stevens, The War on Drugs and Fleet Foxes, he creates, in his own words, “indie-folk with a grand, orchestral, chamber pop sensibility plus an alt-rock edge”. I say that’s a pretty accurate description of his beautiful music, which is characterized by lush harmonies, captivating melodies, and honest, meaningful lyrics touching on subjects like depression, anxiety, and social and political unrest, expressed through his emotive pleasing vocals that nevertheless manage to instill feelings of optimism and unity.
Since 2017, Callum has released an impressive number of singles as well as a four-track EP Poisoned Reveries in 2019. His second single “Least He’s Happy” has been streamed more than two million times on Spotify, with several other singles garnering well over 100,000 streams. He’s also earned accolades such as the Alan Hull Songwriting Award in 2019, and the Fender Player Plus competition in 2021. I love his music, and have previously written about four of his songs, two of which – “Fault Lines” and “Mayfly” – made my Weekly Top 30 chart, with “Fault Lines” ranking #84 on my 100 Best Songs of 2020 list, and “Mayfly”, which peaked at #8 earlier this year, guaranteed to rank even higher on my 100 Best Songs of 2023 list. (You can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post.)
Now Callum has just dropped his long-awaited debut album In The Balance, and it’s a real stunner! The culmination of nearly three years of work, the album’s nine songs were informed by a number of events that prompted him to explore questions of existentialism and fate, including a vehicle accident that could have killed his parents and brother, a close friend almost dying of a drug overdose after leaving a party at his house, and the death by suicide of a childhood friend. Remarkably, he wrote and recorded the album while also working at a job and studying for his masters degree in Occupational Therapy.
He wrote the album in his bedroom, using only a nylon-string guitar and cheap 90s keyboard. He then took his demos to the studio, where he worked with long-time producer John Martindale to turn them into rich recordings, featuring a string quartet, and trumpets by James Leonard Hewiston and saxophone by Alex Saxon. Callum sang lead vocals and played acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards, Luke Elgie played bass, Gavin Christie played drums, and John Martindale played percussion, with Ada Francis and Jodie Nicholson on backing vocals
The album kicks off with “I Feel a God and Devil in This Room“, in which Callum explores how both good and evil are present in human experiences more than in otherworldly realms like heaven or hell, and that we should embrace our lives here and now, rather than wait for a theoretically better afterlife: “I feel alone, but I feel in my bones tonight, something bigger moving like a tidal wave, a wilting bouquet, on fire. I feel a God and devil in this room.” The song is enchanting, opening with delicate guitar, piano and strings, then gradually building to a dramatic crescendo with added saxophone, heavier percussion and gorgeous harmonies. The lovely video, filmed and produced by Gareth Williams, features Mia Fuller dancing to the song in an empty church.
“Black Holes in the Sky” addresses the aforementioned close friend that almost died from an overdose of acid after leaving a party at Callum’s house, and was thankfully saved by a passing dog walker at dawn: “You left our party, the last one to go / I heard that a stranger found you laid down, blue in the lips and frost upon your clothes on the edge of town.” The song starts off with an almost gospel-like feel, but transitions into a stirring anthem, with emphatic piano keys, bold guitar notes and blaring trumpets. On the hauntingly beautiful and contemplative “Crow“, Callum speaks of his struggles with depression and anxiety: “There’s something in the leaves reminding me there’s no light without dark.” His piano and guitar work are particularly stunning here.
“Fraction of a Second” was inspired by a night in 2019, in which Callum was reminded of how a change of a mere second of time could have resulted in a life-altering outcome. Minutes after he waved goodbye to his brother and parents as they left his house, a fire engine hit the back edge of their car. They were all unharmed, but had their car been in the engine’s path a fraction of a second later – if he’d said one more word to them at the doorstep – it would have slammed directly into the drivers’ side. Musically, the song has a melancholy yet hopeful feel, and features a buoyant drumbeat overlain with delicate sweeping synths, beautifully-strummed guitar notes, lovely piano keys and vibrant strings. As always, Callum’s smooth vocals are comforting and warm as he sings of his gratitude that his family safely survived the crash: “And I don’t know what I’d do, if that truck had taken all of you, I think the moon may disappear. But a fraction of a second kept you here.”
On the piano-driven “More Than This“, Callum touches on the impermanence of life and worldly beauty: “And no one ever said there would be more than this, but I feel it turning golden in the fall. Everything must go, it’s an angel in the snow. And I will never ask for more.” The moving video was directed by Sel MacLean and filmed by Ross Marshall, and shows Callum singing the song in an empty theater as he watches a couple, played by Igor Tavares and Laura Alise do an interpretive dance.
One of my favorite songs on the album, “Mayfly” is essentially about adulthood, and speaks to Callum’s feelings of apprehension over the responsibilities he’ll face as a potential parent, fearing he might not be up to the task: “I don’t deserve the love that I am shown, but someday I will. ‘Cause I, I need time, so I can be, who you need me to be. So hold out please.” Musically, the song has a lively, upbeat melody that contrasts with the poignant lyrics. I love the perfect melding of acoustic guitar notes and delicate piano chords in the verses, and how the drums become more intense in the choruses, accompanied by glorious exuberant riffs and swirling keyboards. Callum’s smooth vocals are both comforting and heartfelt, backed by Ada and Jodie’s lovely harmonies, and Alex’s bold saxophone in the final chorus is wonderful.
On “Moths and Butterflies”, Callum speaks to the value of expressing one’s emotions in a society where the expectation is for men and boys to suppress their feelings. Though still essentially a folk song, it has more of a rock vibe, with heavier guitars and drums, especially in the bridge. The enchanting “Uncanny Moon” features delicate guitar notes, stirring strings and gorgeous soaring harmonies.
Album closer “The Will of the River” is a beautiful, cinematic anthem in the vein of Sam Fender’s “Seventeen Going Under”, which means I love it! The combination of gentle acoustic guitar notes with more resonant jangly chords and fuzz-coated gnarly riffs, layered over an exuberant stomping groove, make for an exceptionally impactful track. The poignant lyrics speak of the childhood friend who took his own life, leaving him wondering if there might have been something he could have done to prevent it: “I’m so sorry for how we drifted, maybe I knew you too soon. It’s darker now. You’re now away, but my memories are so clear. We move at the will of the river, but you’re ringing in my ear.”
I’m not sure what more I can say about In The Balance, other that to state with confidence that it’s a gorgeous little masterpiece. Mr. Pitt and company have gifted us an impressive, flawlessly-crafted work, for which they should be quite proud.
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Find his music on Bandcamp / Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / Amazon