Has it really been 6 years since the last Emma Pollock album? Really? Well, I'm here to tell ya that it was worth the wait. In Search of Harperfield, out Friday, January 29, 2016, on Chemikal Underground, is as fine an album as any that Pollock has performed on. And that's very high praise indeed considering that she was one of the members of The Delgados.
Her last album, 2010's sublime The Law of Large Numbers, was a collection that broadened the sound of her solo material, first heard on her debut album under her own name (2007's Watch The Fireworks). And, similarly, In Search of Harperfield takes Pollock's art in new and beautiful directions. Read on!
"Cannot Keep a Secret" opens the LP with a pensive and brooding number that gets at the central themes of this record (the passage of time and ideas of age), while "Don't Make Me Wait" nods in the direction of something more accessible thanks to big hooks and a break near the chorus that is positively euphoric.
"Alabaster" and "Clemency" reach into the past to call up the sound of the The Delgados again, all dark folk and insistent chords, and that trip into her own recording past reaches a small peak on "Intermission" where the music takes on hues best described as sounding like something off of a Michael Nyman soundtrack. Emma Pollock's vocals here are assured and warm and somehow more direct despite the music's attempts at making things a bit mysterious. "Parks and Recreation", the first big single from In Search of Harperfield, throws out big riffs that make it immediate and catchy and in line with early Badly Drawn Boy, or even Elbow tracks. Big props to Pollock's hubby, one-time Delgados drummer Paul Savage for his work on this number as his playing is bold and it anchors the cut perfectly. Added kudos to Malcolm Lindsay for the arrangements on this one and elsewhere on the album.
"Vacant Stare" and "In the Company of the Damned" are a bit jaunty, while "Dark Skies" unfurls on the back of a gentle guitar line and a chill-inducing Pollock vocal performance. As she dips into Gaelic, presumably, the themes of the album become apparent and one can hear her wrestling with family concerns and her place in Scotland. The strings swell and one thinks, oddly, of the best moments on Rewind The Film (2013) by the Manic Street Preachers. Like those guys, Pollock has figured out how to let her place of birth inform her art without making the resulting piece of work too specific as to not be universal in its appeal. "Monster in the Pack" offers a bit of ruminative folk before the final track on the album appears.
If you come into this album knowing that Emma Pollock was going to attempt to deal with the death of her mother and the illness of her father through this album's music and lyrics then listening to "Old Ghosts" will be a moving experience for you as a listener. Clearly the highlight of In Search of Harperfield, this song took on added poignant meaning for me, as it will for many fans of a certain age who've got parents in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. The idea of approaching one's parents as people first and not just your parents is not a radical concept but it's sometimes hard to do. Look, my parents are reasonably healthy and even I tear up a bit every time I play this one. "Old Ghosts" is, simply put, one of the 5 best tracks Emma Pollock has ever performed on and one would not be exaggerating in saying that this was a highlight of her career as a singer and writer. This one is the equal of anything on Hate by The Delgados and I can think of no higher praise than that, frankly.
Emma Pollock has again hit a peak as an artist. It may have taken her 6 years to release a new solo album but it was, honestly, worth the wait as In Search of Harperfield is moving and affecting in ways that little other indie-pop is in 2016. Without a doubt, one can trace a level of quality from the earliest Delgados recordings, on to her tracks on that sublime Fruit Tree Foundation album, and here on her third solo album. Very, very few artists create music that is at once this serious and light on its feet. Accesible and arty, Emma Pollock has managed to make something uniquely personal here that should have wide, wide appeal beyond the borders of her native Scotland. As an artist, Emma's surprised this listener once again and made me consider matters of family and matters of the heart. In Search of Harperfield rewards a listener, that's the short version of my review.
In Search of Harperfield by Emma Pollock is out on Friday, January 29, 2016, via Chemikal Underground.