A big fan of Becci's sometimes soaring, sometimes ethereal first album, I was looking forward to the 2020 release of her second album for months before it dropped. And honestly, I wish I had some dramatic introduction here, in which I'd say something to build tension, like "I didn't know if it would hit me the way Fragmentality did," so then I could have a big "BUT THEN" payoff in which I finally listened to Present Tense and omg, it was great. That'd be a complete fiction, though. I had every confidence that this album would be incredible, and it is; in Present Tense, Becci has delivered a start-to-finish masterclass of songwriting and composition, and that is completely on brand because she is, quite simply, a creative force of nature.
The album starts with Being Human, an immediately atmospheric and kind of uneasy existential musing which just sort of opens up at around the 1:40 mark before resolving on characteristic cleverly layered vocal harmonies. I also felt this quiet tension in the tracks Deconstruct and Conditional. These tracks in particular have a few common traits: an array of textures and instrumentation add up to paint us a kind of brooding dreamscape of a song, through which the vocals - sometimes soft, sometimes pleading - walk us through some soul-searching lyrics. I'm a fan of music in this style generally, so for me these songs were easy ones to connect with.
I also need to particularly highlight The Sound Of Cats, an easy candidate for my top 10 songs of 2020 and one which I tear up upon listening to upon maybe 1 in 4 playbacks. I could fill this entire review with how ridiculously beautiful this track is, but I won't. What I will say is that it reflects Becci as I understand her both as a musician and as a person: the song is simultaneously otherworldly yet human, vulnerable yet strong, and achingly, wonderfully honest. I love that the lyrics present us with a visual slice of life in one verse ("Rainbow chalk on dirty glass/ Fingerprints from tiny hands") before leading us to the searching softness of "I still hear you/ I still care." Swan Song, another masterpiece, shares some characteristics with The Sound Of Cats: they are haunting confessional tracks with some incredible imagery, they make expert use of shifting dynamics to really hammer home the emotional range of the lyrics, and I seem to chop a lot of onions when they're playing.
The track Focus, though. Even within an album of this calibre, this one stands out. This is someone baring her soul and challenging you to listen; a hypnotic riff and beautifully melancholy vocal melody give way to unflinchingly honest spoken word lyrics which remind us that this artist is as much a wordsmith as a bewilderingly accomplished musician. This track took me through nostalgia, regret, friendship, fear, grief and self awareness within the space of five and a half minutes. Like the album as a whole: what a journey.