Thursday, 31 October 2013

Nancy Elizabeth's Dancing

Nancy Elizabeth is from Manchester and Dancing is her third album. It is, according to her website, the most stripped back and bare boned of her works. A self produced bedroom folk album at face value, a quiet masterpiece when you listen more closely.

Dancing has more in common with Stealing Sheep and Laura J Martin than it does with northern quarter toilet venues, and the overall feel of the album is pastoral rather than urban. We are talking fields, sheep, howling wind and rain. Given that it was recorded very much indoors, can this be read as a tribute to an inner world? A universe is being created by this atmospheric soundscape of an album. One that leaves you wanting more.

The album opens with ‘The Last Battle’, an eerie folk piece with an ethereal otherness that, throughout the album, becomes something of a trademark for Elizabeth. The vocals are clear, calm and commanding, holding the song together.

Second song ‘Heart’ begins with a delicate piano tinkling that suggests Florence + the Machine initially. It’s a pastoral piece, impressionist and complex. “For him, I remove, my very skin” it obliquely concludes. To add to the painting analogy, ‘Indelible Day’, an atmospheric piano led piece with almost fevered vocals is like a beautiful miniature portrait.

The electro distortion of ‘Mexico’ blends with a shimmering piano folk dance as mournful vocals move in and out of the distortion. Despite its discordant tone, this is oddly beautiful, very shamanic and soundtracky. It’s electro folk, but not as you would think of it, more as an experiment in sound.

Standout track and single ‘Simon Says Dance’ has a breathy, yearning quality to it. It is accomplished, taut piece, fully realised in structure and theme charting as it does years of dancing across the years of a relationship. There is a maturity here and it has the mark of a classic.

The simple piano of ‘Death in a sunny room’ is effective and wistful, whereas the strummed guitar of ‘Debt’ adds depth and menace to what feels like a particularly urgent song. I am reminded of Miranda Sex Garden (and it’s not often I can say that) possibly crossbred with Glasser. The result transcends folk and indeed genre; the way the piano dances hypnotically amongst the guitar and the burgeoning drums is particularly effective.

The aptly named ‘Shimmering Song’ features eerie vocals and electronic rhythms that drive the layers of sound and melody. If Glasser collaborated with Laura J Martin, it might sound like this.

The pure electro of ‘All Mouth’ appears to owe more to Laurie Anderson than to Laura J Martin, though the ghosts of the Radiophonic Workshop are also present for added weirdness. The overall result is like a warped lullaby for androids who dream of electric sheep.

The skittery rhythms of ‘Raven City’ evoke a bird it flight at times as the initial piano subtleties give way to a more dramatic run on the keys and pathos and poignancy, whereas ‘Desire’ begins with layered harmonies. A poignant, stripped down piece with a sorrowful piano, it is intimate and beautiful in its simplicity. The mediaeval maiden is alone in a bower but she has discovered Laura Nyro’s New York Tendaberry and all is well.

This established, it’s fitting to end with ‘Early Sleep’, a murmured stream of consciousness bubbling under metallic sounding samples. The randomness of drowsy dreams seems to be being invoked.

Sleep tight, Nancy Elizabeth.

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