When it comes to debut albums, there’s a fine line between too much musical diversity and keeping things too repetitive. For Tom Stephens, this tightrope is walked perfectly. The Sydney singer-songwriter, showcases his ability to display variety and continuity in his intimate debut What Lies In The Difference, dynamically shifting between folk, blues and rock.
Drawing comparisons to Matt Corby and Angus Stone, Stephens isn’t afraid to open up about his personal life and thoughts. The album is built around the “observation of relationships” that have surrounded Stephens. Whether it’s lovers, friends or family, Stephens explores the highs and lows of these bonds, growing up or and looking in from the outside. The album, produced by the singer alongside engineer Ryan K Brennan, tastefully grips a slight lo-fi sound while still retaining the crispness of Stephens’ memorable timbre.
Lead single, Down To Rest focuses around a friend of Stephens, who was pressured by their family to give up on their dreams. The track’s uplifting folk nature holds, at the same time, a depressing undertone that almost everyone can relate to, whilst still being somewhat open to interpretation, a trait in which Stephens has honed in on and uses effectively throughout his songwriting.
The LP’s fourth track, Any Less Of A Man again displays mature production and songwriting skills. Written from the perspective of his Grandfather wondering how his wife views him after 60 years of marriage, the ballad features Stephens’ grandfathers, father and uncles forming a choir and repeating the question, “Am I Now Any Less Of A Man?”.
In another moment of soothing folk intimacy, What Would I Be, Stephens considers the unease of committing to love and counters those fears. “Sometimes it seems/ We get so caught up in logistics…../ Instead of listening/ To the age old intuition/ If love is a journey/ It’s time to walk away.” These little lines and phrases should strike a proverbial chord with all of listeners, if you give it the chance to. The track also features fellow Sydney folk artist, Julia Jacklin, who slides in and compliments Stephens’ voice effortlessly.
This is an album of questions. All questions Stephens has tried to answer and ones that he feels need to be asked, of love, friendship and life. The singer utilises his comforting and distinct voice with his songwriting skills to form a warm and genuine debut.
‘What Lies In The Difference’ is out on Friday, 23rd of September. Tom Stephens’ will also be embarking on a two date album launch tour. Details below.
Saturday, 15th October
Oxford Circus, Sydney
Sunday, 16th October
The Old Bar, Melbourne