Thematically, Archives is a look through Francis’s psyche as a songwriter navigating an industry that can be hostile to women – but it’s also a sincere delve through her feelings simply as a woman moving through life, all delivered through a comforting and effortless instrumental. Francis’s reflections on the struggles of overcoming writer’s block (“Write A Song”) feel as universal as songs that tackle more universal topics like body image and beauty standards (“Natural”) thanks to Francis’s delicate lyrical realism as well as her delivery. Not only are her vocals soulful and gorgeous, expertly weaving around the instrumentals, but they’re also tinged with a nonchalance that keeps her writing feeling grounded. This is a collection of everyday moments, passed through Francis’s sonic haze to turn into something more.
The production is subtly ambitious, never doing too much but with more than enough layers to delve into. Perhaps the biggest surprise comes on “Write A Song – Outro”, which sees Francis creating a fairy-tale ending with strings and synths, which is ethereal and pleasantly unexpected after the sharp wooze of the rest of the album – even though it’s demonstrating the same skilful layering Francis has proven her prowess across Archives. “Cross The Line” blends offbeat droplets of sound in the stripped-back verses with a luscious chorus; the bright pulses of sound in “Disconnect” soothe the staccato beat; and in “Jasmine”, Francis’s feat of storytelling and captivating characterisation harness her falsetto vocals almost as an instrument to form its texture expertly.
There are moments where personal writing brushes with feeling overstated – for example, “Write A Song”’s inclusion of a voice-note of ruminations, writing the song as the song is playing, breaks the sonic immersion that Francis has so carefully crafted and doesn’t work quite as well as it could have. But regardless, perhaps that doesn’t matter, because Archives is nothing if not genuine.