Nerve Up ••••
Warp Records has a long history of plucking unusual and promising electronic artists out of obscurity and giving them an arena in which to produce their best work. In recent years though, they’ve branched out into music which falls outside their usual electronica-based remit, but that pushes playfully at genre boundaries – think Jamie Lidell, Maximo Park, Grizzly Bear et al. – and Lonelady (aka Manchester-based artist, poet and musician Julie Campbell) falls somewhat defiantly into this category with her debut album, Nerve Up. A one-woman wonder, Campbell has created an album that blends modern girl-with-guitar attitude with 1980s synth-references into sparse, solitary musical vistas befitting her stage name, and which could only have originated from the home of The Smiths.
A tense mood is established right from the off; ‘If Not Now’ starts out by contrasting Campbell’s crystal-clear vocals with a ringing bassline, achieving an open, economic sound through a minimal and exacting use of handclaps, guitars and a couple of synth strokes. (A purpose-built recording studio in a disused mill can’t have been a disadvantage either.) The pulsing rhythm pushes through a number of instrumental breaks, with all these elements crescendoing together at the finale. The net effect of this thrilling introduction is that the listener is drawn into a web of subtly referenced and cleverly structured songs that span several genres simultaneously. Campbell’s vocal on the title track, for instance, somehow combines Kylie Minogue’s breathy vocal style with the strict, clipped stylings of Debbie Harry, making for an unlikely but somewhat tasty combo.
There’s also a lovely cadence to Nerve Up; it starts out all feisty with punky power-chords and lashings of attitude on tracks like ‘Early The Haste Comes’, gradually shifting into a quieter, more subdued and reflective mindset. Lyrically, the album deals in conflict and frustration (‘Nerve Up’), isolation (‘Cattletears’) and a tinge of tightly-controlled emotions (‘Have No Past’). Penultimate track ‘Army’ bumps the mood back up again, briefly, only for the downward trend relapse into the heartbreaking, country-inspired finale ‘Fear No More’.
Weaving in some carefully chosen references that call to mind the spectrum of ’80s pop from Heart to Gary Numan, and with modern shades of Electrelane’s Verity Susman and Ladyhawke in Campbell’s vocals, Nerve Up could sound chaotic and mismatched. But ultimately it’s her mixing of these references into a catchy set of understatedly brilliant pop songs which makes this a record that’s infinitely more than the sum of its parts.
UK release date: 22/02/10; www.myspace.com/lonelady
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