Lee Williscroft-Ferris reviews Come Home, the new album by leading trans activist and artist, CN Lester.
Music is always at its most appealing, its most touching, its most human when it comes from a place of profound personal truth. This has always underpinned the work of CN Lester, a multi-talented individual with an enviable back catalogue of outstanding material, a long history of LGBTQ+ activism extending back to their school days and a book launch to coincide with the release of their latest album.
Lester’s previous LPs, Ashes and Aether, were characterised by incredibly visceral songwriting, complemented by emotive, stripped-down production and the kind of vocal delivery that sends shivers down the spine. Thankfully, Come Home is no different. It’s a relatively brief affair at around 35 minutes but, as always, the seven tracks are beautifully crafted. ‘The Cuckoo’ is a traditional song set to a bare string arrangement accompanied by Lester’s slightly muffled lower register and the perfect opener.
‘Not Again’ strikes a defiant lyrical tone (‘I’m used to breaking – but not this time / Of all the things you’ve taken, I’m not giving me from mine / I know I’m better lonely but alive’), the emotion audible in Lester’s movingly nuanced vocals. The beautiful piano and guitar-driven backdrop only enhances the mood of the track. Lester’s record of activism and altruism shines through on ‘Be a Choir’, on which they seemingly acknowledge the toll that being a devoted advocate can take, while also celebrating strength in unity (‘No matter how small / Be a choir, when it rises as one / Just breathe, and it’s over and done / Be a choir – be the force of us all’). It strikes a personal note while at the same time conveying a universal message.
As always, the seven tracks are beautifully crafted
The heady blend of vulnerability and inner strength continues on ‘Teachers’ (‘But you said that love would flicker out – dull with age, and sour with doubt / That life would always snuff love out / But it can’t have us yet’), which features an especially stirring piano refrain. Never one to shy away from addressing the intensely personal and ever adept at doing so without veering into the self-indulgent or trite, ‘Meltwater’ tells of the inner turmoil of falling in love while feeling afraid of surrendering oneself (‘It’s how you burned when you touched me, a fire beneath your palm / I’d been holding myself apart by pieces, holding myself alone / And how will it change me? If I lose me, how will I know me?). Despite the fear of emotional exposure so inherent in the lyrics, Lester’s voice is unwavering on the track, providing for a perfect juxtaposition of ‘strength’ and ‘weakness’.
The penultimate song is a cover of the David Bowie classic, ‘Heroes’, recorded at the request of Lester’s rapidly expanding fanbase. While never straying far from the spirit of the original version, the rendition is quintessentially CN Lester, combining sublime mastery of the piano with spellbinding vocals, showcasing the unique talent that has seen them span the musical spectrum over the years, from opera to Leonard Cohen covers.
…never one to shy away from addressing the intensely personal and ever adept at doing so without veering into the self-indulgent or trite
Come Home concludes with the track of the same name. By this stage, Lester appears to have succumbed to the full gamut of sentiments associated with loving another person and sings of the fear of loneliness (‘And can you hear me singing out across the line? / And are you coming, will you get to me in time?’). Utterly relatable yet still delivered in Lester’s inimitable ethereal style, it truly is a fitting finale to a wonderful oeuvre.
CN Lester’s music career thus far has been defined by an exceptional ability to pen lyrics and compose music that convey an impression of their life in that moment – a sonic snapshot of a person who, just like the rest of us, experiences love, loneliness, fear and determination. It takes a very special artist indeed to not only let us into their innermost thoughts, but to do so in such a beautiful, multi-layered manner. Thank God for CN Lester.