Bridie Monds-Watson has come a long way. They were once touted as one of those infamous bright, new hopes when they first emerged as a shy, precocious 16-year-old with startlingly fully-formed songs. And with an award-winning debut album, labels like “teen prodigy” were thrown around with wild abandon.
These days, the Derry-born musician has shaken the “wunderkind” marker once and for all. Now (slightly) older and (definitely) wiser, there is an undeniable sense of freedom to the 26-year-old’s third album, which incorporates the intimate details of their life as never before. Monds-Watson recently adopted the pronouns they/them, and a number of the songs perceive love and relationships though a non-binary person’s lens.
Vulnerability is the throbbing heartbeat of If I Never Know You Like This Again – an album, they recently told the Irish Times, that helped them to "process the past". They have come into their own as a canny lyricist, too, never drifting into sentimentality but always ready with an often-sardonic, self-deprecating take. Bleach is a touching recollection of their partner's trip to Japan, as they anxiously ponder: "What if you fall in love overnight with some posh boy on a gap year?/ I can't compete with anatomy, I'll never be the real deal". Baby, You're Full of Shit narrates the tribulations of love and self-acceptance with an eye-rolling smirk, while Neptune wallows seductively in heartache. There's space for witticisms, too: at one point, they wryly opine "I knew my twenties would make or break me, but what the f*ck is this?"
Despite the sensitive lyrical themes, Monds-Watson’s musical journey cannot be discounted. Where once the portmanteau of “soul” and “folk” literally defined them, these songs are undoubtedly their most fully realised, encompassing 1990s college rock, the brand of lo-fi rock peddled by Pavement and Built to Spill, and modern idiosyncratic garage-pop and indie ranging from Courtney Barnett’s droll peculiarities to Real Estate and Phoenix’s dreamy pop bounce.
Around every corner there is a quirky guitar riff or an impossibly catchy melody, best heard on Purgatory, the breezy Get Well Soon, the half-shuffled strut of Red Eye and the measured thump of Bleach. Songs like Neptune push the envelope and experiment with darker themes, its winding experimental outro tussling with a delicate piano riff. Melancholy closer Swear Jar begins with a strummed guitar before unfurling to a gorgeous string arrangement, as Monds-Watson ponders: “Where have I been all my life?/Watching myself from the sidelines”. That may have been the case up until now, but this brilliant album sets them up for a thrilling future, where anything is possible.