Thursday, February 4, 2010

Emma Pollock: Review of the New Album and Free MP3

During the 1980s, music journalism started to get infected with laziness and I blame Spin magazine. Reviews of new bands and new albums seemed to be awash in phrases comparable to: "It's like King Crimson-meets-Chic" -- the more outlandish the pairing, the better.

It was an easy device for journalists to use to describe bands breaking new ground and bands using styles of the past in the creation of new music.

And the great thing about Scotland's The Delgados was that none of those "[this]-meets-[that]" devices would work with the band.

When I first heard "Pull The Wires From The Wall" on John Peel's radio show via the BBC's Internet stream, sitting in my cubicle in Northern Virginia sometime in late 1998, I was transfixed. I had knowledge of Chemikal Underground records due to being a fan of Mogwai and Arab Strap, but The Delgados, especially the voice of Emma Pollock, hit a nerve -- like a dark Go-Betweens (to ape that lazy Spin-style!) with those Amanda Brown backing vocals now brought to the foreground on select tracks.

Over the course of magnificent albums like The Great Eastern and Hate, the band marked territory at once highbrow and totally unaffected; the music was direct, the lyrics unpretentious, but the entire package was presented with a seriousness that I appreciated -- a rough comparison is New Order, not for a similar sound, but more for the ability to take very simple elements and combine them in a powerful manner to create something with an element of the timeless.

Like Pavement, I could probably guess some of the titles in The Delgados members' record cabinets, but, also like Pavement, the combination of influences was so absolute that I was listening to something "new" finally and not just another C-86 rehash, or another shoegazer-wannabe band from either side of the Atlantic.

So when the band fell apart -- I never even read the whole story -- fans like me waited for the solo releases to trickle out.

And when I heard the news that Emma had signed with 4AD, I kind of dreaded the result, fearful that the subsequent album would be like a weak Heidi Berry record.

Luckily, 4AD didn't ruin that marvelous voice.

Not only that, but it goes without saying that the reaction of most Delgados fans to the first solo album from Emma Pollock was probably a similarly voiced: "Wow, this is pretty upbeat!" For those of us hoping for a full album's worth of "Favours", the downright jaunty mood of songs like "Adrenaline" was a shock.

However, that surprise revealed that Emma Pollack is a vocalist capable of a wider range of moods than most people expected.

New album, The Law of Large Numbers, out on March 2, 2010 in the US and March 1, 2010 in the UK, should please both old Delgados fans as well as fans of Emma's first album, Watch The Fireworks.

It's worth noting that Emma Pollock is now back on the label she helped form -- Chemikal Underground -- the album feels like The Delgados without sounding exactly like them. That's a good thing.

And while there are moments on The Law of Large Numbers that echo Watch the Fireworks, the tone seems more varied, as if Emma is now not afraid to sound a bit like her old band on one song, and then sound totally different on another -- dig those electronic drums on "Confessions"!

As Emma related in the press release for this album:

"It's most certainly not a cold record, it might contain some contradictions but most of the records I like do. I don't want things to sound too 'easy' and prefer to make something more oblique and hopefully more interesting, not too saccharine or sweet."

I was going to do a track-by-track breakdown of the record but, instead, I'll just highlight a few key ones and leave the rest to be discovered.

"Hug The Piano (And)"/"Hug The Harbour"
Clearly a single! "My trust lies in your precision" Emma seems to almost shout as the song begins its insistent rhythm. The song is the flip of the first album's "Adrenaline", vaguely menacing where the earlier track was optimistic.

"My trust lies in your precision!" a mantra repeated.

"Nine Lives"
The languid mood of Aimee Mann with an eagerness in Emma's voice that Ms. Mann would never be quite capable of. "I'm just waiting for waves from the window" Emma intones over the jazzy, shuffling last minute-or-so of the track.

"Letters To Strangers"
Stunning, spooky song this. Quite simply, the song sounds a bit like one of The Delgados songs that Alun Woodward sang lead on only with Emma singing -- there's a hint of the familiar here but that quickly morphs into something vaguely sinister. "Who do you want to be today?" is the haunting refrain. A distant cousin of The Delgados' "Accused of Stealing" with the same, almost-hesitant-but-still-insistent forward momentum.

I hope this is a single; the song is catchy in the fragmented, wonderful way a Pavement single is catchy (I've got Pavement on the brain today!)

"The Child In Me"
A fantastic, largely acoustic guitar-led track, this is a new presentation of Emma for those of us who wondered what she would sound like without the always-impeccable production that has marked her career. It's an echo of "Thirteen Guiding Principles", for those of you looking for a link with past Delgados glory; the rising, hopeful cousin to "Pull The Wires From The Wall" -- a guitar line that makes me think of Bernard Butler for some reason -- just an amazing track that I've played about 10 times already today.

Proof that all the things I loved about The Delgados are there, with just Emma Pollock's voice, some guitar chords, and a few subtle shifts in tone over the course of 3-minutes.

"They will surely see the child in me" sung with a sense of dread and insecurity, but Emma's voice rises -- it's still a hopeful sound -- that bridge just knocked me on my ass! No sweeping strings, just a voice and a hint of a shift in tone -- wonderful!

The final few seconds and Emma's back to singing "They will surely see the child in me" only this time with a bit of confidence.

"Chemistry Will Find Me"
(Great title!) The song that pretty much closes the album, Chemistry Will Find Me" opens with a jazzy feel until slashing/crashing chords enter and the song seems to speed up as Emma rattles off a list of items, memories, and accusations until the bridge opens up the song. Distant voices echo and then the song finds the jagged edges of a Sonic Youth piece until the final seconds and we fade out on xylophone notes.

"Hug The Piano (OR)"
The piano coda, the reprise of the album's opening, a bookend to bring us full circle.

To quote Emma from the press release again:
"I feel like I'm beginning to understand the difference between being a solo artist and being in a band, making music for my own gratification first and foremost."

To state the obvious: as long as Emma Pollock continues to do that, her fans will remain gratified as well.

Free MP3 of "Hug The Harbour"
You can download "Hug The Harbour" via Chemikal Underground records at the bottom of this page.

Check out Emma Pollock's page at Chemikal Underground here.

Emma Pollock's official website is here.


In the US, you can buy The Law of Large Numbers on March 2 via here.

Amazon will also have the album for purchase via download on March 2 here.

As of now, there is no link for the album on US iTunes but check back later, closer to March 2.