Philip Brooks’ (they/them) third EP, On My Own, is an intensely human document, tender in the way of a deep purple bruise. It was born from a time of nomadic wandering after they became unmoored from their adoptive home of Brighton. In its pandemic-era stillness, without droves of tourists cluttering its streets, they found themselves with access to the gentleness they longed for while still being at the epicentre of a queer, like-minded creative community. But as restrictions lifted, the rot of climbing rent prices set in and the faces they passed no longer sparked kinship or comforting recognition. A stranger in their own town, Brooks sought to find sanctuary in the only place they have ever felt they belonged, Grandma Martha’s.
Nestled in woodland, the once-stately home that was the hard-earned dream of their Hungarian immigrant grandparents is a place of comfort and familiarity. Moving back into its empty second floor for the first time since they were seventeen, they stripped back its shag carpet, restored its original features and painted the walls to their whim. For a long time, Brooks had convinced themselves that they should be in a sprawling city, chasing trains, chasing people, chasing opportunity. In order to make a name for themselves in London, they felt that they had to compromise on the soft, white underbelly of folk music that they wanted to make and trade it for the indie-pop they found easy, but creatively cold. Time, space and quiet were other privileges that were part of the sacrifice. But here, they could feed a spool of reel-to-reel tape into its 8-track recorder, light incense, pick up their guitar and let their voice be pulled by a tide of its own.
Written in this time of personal and global uncertainty, On My Own speaks to a sense of alienation and loneliness, but also serves as an ode to that very same solitude, life’s little joys. Every day, to quell their anxiety, Brooks make comforting shapes out of their strange, barely-working instruments, singing stream-of consciousness to release the thoughts rattling around their mind. Through nurturing these barely alive musical creatures almost entirely alone, from the production to the mixing and instrumentals, in time, these seven songs could breathe on their own. Every limitation, every fragility, is what lends On My Own its home-spun radiance. These are confessions made in the quiet hours, secrets told in stillness as if roused from a sleep: sweet, soft, but disconnected. They call to mind the ramshackle dream-logic of Elyse Weinberg and George Harrison and the guileless truths of Connie Converse.
Its first single, “is there something for me?”, was born from this ritual. The song represented a sound that they had been striving to replicate through software their entire career, but here it was, in all its tape glitches and scratches. Listen closely, and you can imagine how it felt to be in the room: the errant sound of birds, the distant tinkle of a wind chime. Through embracing these imperfections, it felt, to Brooks, like a new world of creation. “I felt like I was looking for somewhere to belong,” they say of the track. “I feel like for the last five years, I’ve always had some of my things in boxes, just waiting for the next move. It’s longing for a place that I can really be comfortable in, and settle for more than a year.”
“lay down” was written in the absence of Brooks’ partner runo plum, who collaborated with them on their previous EP, 2021’s mountain songs. When their turn-taking between Europe and the States hadn’t aligned, Brooks was idly playing the guitar in the evening to help lull them to sleep, a distraction from their loud thoughts. A thunderstorm raged beyond their window, and they sang of the loneliness they felt – wanting comfort, but by a stroke of paradox, enjoying the solitude they had learned to love at Grandma Martha’s house: “You drive down 35 / Into the blue night / I’m in a different world / Living freely / But living lonely.”
The vinyl’s bonus track, “floating away”, explores that physical distance but also the way a person seems to remain if not in the room then in your mind, the way you think and move. “It’s about being in this in-between world of still being connected in this mythical way, remembering what a person would do even if they’re not there,” says Brooks. They play the song on their broken piano, committed to record for the first time. It hasn’t been tuned for twenty years – but Brooks realised there is no piano that sounds out of tune the way that theirs does. “It leaves this shimmer,” they reflect, “like what lingers in the air after bells have stopped ringing.”
It’s fitting that the final words Brooks sings on the EP at the exclusion of its bonus track are “on my own” – on their own terms, without any external influence, but also a love letter to the outsider music they have always felt compelled to make.
The only exception to their solitude is found in “charlie”. The song was written during a three-day visit to Brighton. They walked past their old building, and in the window, by chance, there was a flag which read, ‘Welcome Home’. It felt bittersweet: everything had changed, even in that short space of time, irrevocably. That night, at their friend’s folk show, they were struck by the way that the music held up a mirror to the audience’s face so closely you could see their breath on it: the memories, the pain, the joy - all experienced personally, but in that room, shared collectively. The experience had a profound effect upon Brooks, at once inspiring them and overwhelming them with the bigger picture of aligning themselves with who they are, and where they chose to go from here: “I hope that I will ever find / A place and people I call mine.” What you hear is the first take, the first time it was ever sang aloud.
The EP artwork was an experience of chance that felt more like fate. Having been raised on the mythical imagery of American landscapes, during an eighteen-hour road trip to Vancouver with Plum, Brooks decided to look up the most beautiful sights on Interstate 94. The first result was the Painted Canyon in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Drawn to the expanse of scorched earth, its alien scenery that felt more like Mars than Earth, Brooks decided that this would be where they would take photographs for the EP’s cover. At first, they feared a bad turn in the weather, but as they arrived at sunset, it felt perfect. Not only was it an achievement for their inner child to finally witness the vast American landscape, but a victory as an expression of exactly who they are in all their fluidity. It captured a body of work rooted in solitude that had, at last, reached a comforting place of connection.