Birte Paulsen Works Through Heartbreak on ‘Borrowed Time’
Most of us have been through a difficult breakup at some point in our life. It’s the kind of event that can shake you down to your core and make you question everything you’ve ever valued. Many musicians have lamented over lost love but one would be hard pressed to find a more thorough depiction of the emotional fallout of a broken relationship than Birte Paulsen’s recent album Borrowed Time. The Brighton based singer-songwriter has put forth a moody set of songs that deal almost exclusively with a relationship that fell apart its aftermath. Without giving too many specifics about the actual scenario, Paulsen comments on her side of the story from seemingly every possible angle, as she dealt with heartbreak, anger, and eventually coming to some kind of acceptance.
The musical aesthetic on Borrowed Time is unique as it draws from what Paulsen calls, “ folk, chanson, americana, and Scandinavian eccentricity.” While she holds down the lead vocals and guitar, she is joined by Alfie Weedon on double bass, ukulele, vocals, and percussion, Mishkin Fitzgerald on piano and accordion, and Ben Weedon on violin. Even though the music and instrumentation stays within the realm of folk music, Paulsen’s compositions are creatively unpredictable.
The album’s opening track, for example, has a signature rhythm and harmony that suggests an almost Spanish flavor, with Paulsen’s haunting vocals floating over the top. By the time the song reaches the chorus where she is joined by Alfie Weedon’s backing vocals, the song has established a definitively original sound. The words reflect Paulsen’s pain as she sings, “I need more than you taking all the best and leaving me the rest… I don’t want you near me, go waste someone else’s time.” While her lyrics suggest a sort of resolve, she later suggests the situation made her closed off: “So I crawl back into my shell where I have been before.” The song is an apt precursor to the rest of the album’s dour subject matter.
In the second track “Tar Pit” Paulsen sums up her feelings when she writes, “All that remains is a tar pit for the soul.” Her disposition rarely improves from that state on the album. “Tar Pit” offers another interesting musical style, however, sounding like what one could imagine if Portishead took a foray into folk music. The musicianship is impressive in its support for Paulsen’s voice, concocting an engaging musical base that organically swells in energy toward the end of the song.
There’s a bit of a surprise on “Borrowed Time” as the music has just a slight tinge of electronic production in the percussion and the composition has a more definitive backbeat, even while the singers maintain a light 6/8 feel. These elements are part of a larger emphasis in the song on letting the music take the forefront. Alfie Weedon’s bass sound springs out of the mix throughout and there’s even a section devoted to Ben Weedon’s violin playing.
Paulsen shows an evolution in her feelings with the final track “The Only Thing,” suggesting that perhaps she may be working towards understanding what happened with hopes of letting it go. Early on in the song, she turns her pain inward, writing, “You were the angel and I played my part as the devil who broke your wings.” It’s a surprising departure from her previous comments about the appropriate fault in the breakup and the actual truth is for only her and her partner to know. In the song’s chorus, though, she offers some reflection: “And love might be the only thing I never had.” The statement is still somewhat vague, but it suggests that Paulsen is moving beyond the initial pain of the situation to objectively analyze what happened. It’s a reminder that only when we can calmly reflect on these events that we can take stock of things and move on.
While Borrowed Time focuses on emotional turmoil with a heavy hand, Paulsen’s songwriting offers plenty of interesting choices to keep audiences engaged. The subject matter gets somewhat tired but the music keeps us listening throughout. And there is something compelling about having such an intimate look into Paulsen’s world as she deals with a trauma that can be present in so many of our lives. With its engaging music and relatable narrative, Borrowed Time makes us curious to hear about Paulsen’s next chapter.