Sunday, January 22, 2017

Space To Be: A Rave Review Of Stellular, The Superb New Album From Rose Elinor Dougall

I'm not gonna bore you with the usual bullshit. Not gonna do that whole backstory thing again about how Rose Elinor Dougall left The Pipettes to re-invent herself as a sort of cross between Kate Bush and Harriet Wheeler, nor how her debut, 2010's Without Why, remains such a well-loved record by so many people. Frankly, more than half of a decade has passed since that album dropped which makes talk of her origins in The Pipettes such a waste of time now. She's a fully-formed solo artist circa 2017, one capable of producing striking Brit chamber pop -- when she chooses to, of course -- and now she's gone and recorded a long-player that is, in many ways, as much of a leap forward as that first solo LP was from The Pipettes.

Stellular, out this Friday, is such a well-conceived set of tunes -- all precisely arranged and immaculately produced -- that I feel as enthusiastic when writing about this record as I did about Without Why some few years ago. The big difference now is that, clearly, Rose has been listening to more than just Sandy Denny and Stereolab, to be a bit blunt about it. If that earlier full-length debut was the product of a singer going solo and attempting to put her love of her influences onto tape, Stellular is said singer joining those influences as an equal. The material here is so strong, so good, and so effortlessly rich that I'm more than happy to hype a collection of tunes like this.

Opener "Colour of Water" glides in on a wash of keyboard figures, a spry electronic hook carrying things forward like the best, brightest moments on early Eighties Roxy Music records, while the airy title track bounces forward like a Human League single with Alison Moyet on the mic. I name-drop those kinds of acts not to suggest that Rose Elinor Dougall is somehow trying to shoehorn that stuff into her music but, rather, that she is confidently creating the sort of music that warrants comparison to those acts while offering something warmer than some of those earlier artists did. If "Closer" didn't quit do it for this fan, "Take Yourself With You" sent chills up my spine, the melody perfectly suiting Rose's vocal range. If somehow Sandy Denny had managed to commandeer the good ship Blondie for a brief, inexplicable moment, the subsequent pairing would have sounded like this, a more European, world-wearier "Sunday Girl" the result here. If "All At Once" echoes Goldfrapp a tiny bit, the dusky charms of the piano-driven "Answer Me" provide listeners with one of the best showcases for Rose's voice on a record full of them. A big chorus -- the stuff of Seventies AM radio, really -- makes this a winner. That the cut bears a slight resemblance to mid-period Everything But The Girl doesn't hurt either.

The rockier "Dive" is a collaboration with one-man band Boxed In and it's a bit of a departure from what you might expect to hear here. It's a fine experiment, really. And, yeah, 2 tracks ("Strange Warnings" and "Poison Ivy") are re-dos of earlier numbers from Rose Elinor Dougall's superb 2013 Future Vanishes EP, but they fit seamlessly into the overall presentation of this release. Near the end of Stellular we get the real highlights of this album: "Hell and Back and "Space To Be", the former a gorgeous, soaring number that suggests nothing so much as a less arch (and less French) Laetitia Sadier. As Rose's multi-tracked vocals overlap in the background, and she explains how she's tried to rid herself of her own demons, the effect is a nearly-transcendent one, absolutely perfect pop closer to an Eighties Bowie or Bryan Ferry single than anything from our indie age. That other big highlight is next and "Space To Be" is this album's equivalent of "Carry On" from the first long-player. Rose is here in fine form and that space-y bit before the big, big chorus takes this song to another level entirely. That the tune is wildly catchy and smart and lush makes it so easy to play on repeat. In some odd way, this reminded me of a classic Suede number and I couldn't help but recall, as Rose beautifully gives into the melody during this performance, of those moments in something like "Trash" where Brett Anderson stops trying to be Bowie and turns into a vocalist just as good.

By the time that Stellular ends -- on the old-fashioned piano balladry of "Wanderer" -- one gets a real sense of self-assurance this time out. If the first full-length saw Rose finding her place in a post-C86 landscape, ditching the witty irony that briefly made the music of The Pipettes more of an intellectual affair than an emotional one, Stellular is the sound of her in control, mastering some material and experimenting with some other styles.

Rich, lush (in spots), and performed with confidence, Stellular is already one of 2017's best albums and it's not even out yet. Fans of Rose Elinor Dougall's solo career will be very happy with this one and they, like me, may find it hard to not rave about this record. Less indie than Without Why, this one is full of material that shines a flattering light on an artist who really should make music more frequently. That said, Stellular was well worth the wait.

In the USA, you can order Stellular via iTunes here. Outside of the USA, check your favorite online retailers and, of course, the brick-and-mortar record shops wherever you are.

Follow the official Facebook page for Rose Elinor Dougall for the latest news and tour and release information.

[Photo: Uncredited promo pic from Rose Elinor Dougall Facebook page]