Denai Moore has released her second album We Used To Bloom, a declaration of growth, a break-up letter to her demons and a love letter to the liberated self via Because Music.
“I think I’m a better version of myself now that I’ve made this record,” says Denai Moore. “It would’ve been so much easier if I’d just done a really simple album. But there’s no point to me in making anything if you’re not trying to become a better version of yourself by the end of it.”
Moore was only a teenager when her music career began — plucked from an early open mic night, the exquisite shape and timbre of her voice met immediate adoration: her first single, Blame, played across Radio 1, 2 and 6Music, and her debut EP brought a stunning appearance on Jools Holland. Her peers were desperate to collaborate. Her debut album, Elsewhere, was rapturously acclaimed.
Still just 23, the last couple of years have provided an intense and sometimes painful period of growth for the Jamaican born, Stratford-raised Moore — an experience that she documents now with unflinching openness on We Used to Bloom. These 10 songs reveal a young woman figuring out the world and her place in it, while also charting Moore’s evolving relationship with herself — with self-esteem, self-image and the crippling anxiety she once suffered and is now challenging head on through her songwriting.
“There are a lot of fears I’ve got over, about making music and how I feel about myself,” she says. This process seeps through into these songs: from a sumptuous cover of Elliott Smith’s Twilight to her own track Trickle, in which she deals with the aforementioned anxiety.
But she sings too of the triumph of this experience. On the sublime album opener Let It Happen she’s revelling in “a celebration of myself, a self-love anthem. It’s about me reclaiming myself and realising I don’t need that validation from other people. The most important thing is how we feel about ourselves.”
What is particularly notable about Moore’s music — in her early EPs and collaborations, on Elsewhere, and now in We Used to Bloom – is how it defies genre. There are R’n’B influences, certainly, but alongside them stand a love for folk and soul, for Bon Iver, Feist and Solange, for Sufjan Stevens’s The Age of Adz into the “richness” of Beyonce’s Lemonade, for the fact that “Kanye never made the same record twice”, for the way that St Vincent “really reinvented the idea of being a lead guitarist.” And there too is the girl who learned to play keys alongside her session musician father, the girl who took up guitar and sang at a young age, who spent her childhood in Jamaica listening to the gospel music of the local churches. “And melodically that still influences me,” she says. “It’s a very resonant music. It stays.” And so to bracket Moore with any one particular scene seems naive —such defiance of genre is crucial for a flourishing British music community.
Elsewhere Moore turns her gaze outward — on Poor Person, for instance, she questions whether wealth should really be measured in material terms, and Bring You Shame she looks at ideas of personal responsibility, at the feeling of “wanting to contribute more and feeling powerless”.
Do They Care, one of the album’s gems, is a song that takes the temperature of the times, “It’s about everything that’s happening right now in the world and how much it was affecting me,” she recalls. “It’s such a weird moment — we hear about things in such a rapid space of time, and we’re made to deal with all these events and tragedies and injustices and suffering and then almost having to move on to the next one.”
The album’s closing track is an immense, open hearted song written with Kwabs and named All The Way. Growth is a recurring theme of this record, a fact Moore attributes to the way her life has changed since her last record. “I think a massive part of the last few years for me has been how I feel about life,” she says. “The infinite possibilities of it. It’s something that really had allowed me to have no fear.”
The album title, she says, is a nod to this feeling. “I chose it because I felt like I’m in the growing aspect of my life,” she explains. “There’s something about blossoming and blooming that I associate with being younger, but now I’m older and I’m really coming to understand myself as a person. We used to bloom; now we grow.”