Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sweeping The Nation Albums Of 2010: Number 6

Can we get through this without mentioning her old band? Let's give it a shot.

Without Why isn't a retro record, but a lot of what surrounds it seems trapped in amber. Many of its influences are those that once pirouetted on the fringes of the mainstream but now otherwise are largely left within their original boxes - Cocteau Twins sonic high churches, Stereolab's drone-pop explorations in the three minute form, the Sundays' shapeshifting, ringingly unconventional guitar pop, the post-Loveless end of ethereal shoegaze (Lush, Slowdive), the once ever present Johnny Marr jangle. Subtly intelligent pop leaning indie-before-it-was-a-bad-word, in simpler terms. What Dougall adds is her vocal style, tricky to completely quantify - Siouxsie Sioux without the menace? Sophie Ellis-Bextor with emotion? It’s not too far from cult late 60s English folk singer and acknowledged influence Bridget St John. Whatever, it’s a richly nuanced tone, capable of switching from heartbreaking and vulnerable to lachrymose to defiantly unbowed, all in very English enunciated vowels that sometimes sound like the music has been re-mixed around it.

That sort of range fits well against a set of introspective character portraits somewhere between pensive and defeated, exposing a good deal of pervasive, complex self-doubt. "I don’t think I am any of the things you say I am" offers Find Me Out; "please don't ask what's happening without you" avers Carry On, seemingly referring to an ongoing relationship. The pointedly titled Another Version Of Pop Song may centre on straightforward love sentiments amid rhythmic handclaps but still offers a toy effect keyboard mini-solo where the chorus should be and, more tellingly, the caveat "please don't say that it's forever or that we belong together". Start/Stop/Synchro, built around a circular baroque keyboard line, charts love as it progresses from hopeful present to melancholic past tense concluding in admittance/denial. Come Away With Me yearns to take someone away from what life is currently throwing at them while never quite escaping the idea that the desire to be in love is half the trouble. Not that it's all circling jangle against lack of assertiveness by any means. Affecting torch song Find Me Out edges towards a film noir uncomfortableness, dipping odd little bits of instrumentation in and out as Dougall plaintively refers to "my cerebral faculties corroding". Watching is on nodding terms with Broadcast in its quietly sinister drone, gothic menace shivering around violins and woody percussion. Third Attempt is made up of acoustic guitar picking, blurry organ and a wistful vocal that suggests "the world was yours and mine" but Dougall ruefully hits on the crux of her own uncertainties: "I wonder if you feel that the wool was pulled over your eyes/Was this person not the answer, really a question in disguise?" James sideman Lee Baker's production is entirely sympathetic throughout, fluttering across the spectrum, subtle where needs be, strident elsewhere without losing sight of the art of pop construction or held back melodrama at its core. "What will we make of these days of ours?" rhetorically asks the galloping widescreen closer May Holiday, a question that turns itself back on someone getting to grips with young adulthood’s new emotional charges against the need to be careful about the future. A yearning, self-curiosity quiet triumph.


Find Me Out

The full list

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