Posts Tagged ‘PJ Harvey’

18th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

If you’re drawing comparisons to PJ Harvey, Anna Calvi, Tori Amos, and Kate Bush, you’re probably doing something right, even if it may be through lazy journalism. Despite female artists and female-fronted bands having made massive headway in recent years – and seriously, not before time – and frankly, it shouldn’t erven be a talking point or even a subject of reference – the pool of major-league female artists who aren’t pop or r’n’b is quite limited. Consequently, comparisons are often drawn almost out of desperation due to the lack of choice. This is unfair on both sides, and incredibly reductive. But then, comparisons are problematic anyway, and are perhaps indicative of another issue in the music industry: labels, radio stations, media outlets, even fans – most of the time, they’re not really looking for the next big thing, but the new replica of the last big thing.

It’s far easier to market ‘the new PJ Harvey’ than ‘something like nothing you’ve ever heard before.’ Amazon and most streaming sites operate on ‘recommendations’: if you like x, you’ll probably like y’. It’s likely true, but this only leads to a narrowing: where is the encouragement of broadening horizons? Strong female voices are being pigeonholed – and I don’t mean just strong in vocal terms, although Kristina Stazaker is strong on both fronts when it comes to voice, with songs that are imbued with deep emotional resonance delivered with the kind of passion that comes from the very core.

On Follow Me, Stazaker showcases a selection of songs which are stripped back and direct. Primarily centred around acoustic guitar and vocals – often layered up with backing vocals and harmonies – the style is angry folk, but the voice uniquely Stazaker’s. Follow Me is simple but effective: that is to say, it’s imperious, free of fancy production, and is absolutely about the songs. It’s fitting for an album so lyrically concerned with nature, and the lyrical preoccupations are reflected in the honest, earthy instrumentation.

‘Don’t let those bastards beat you down’ Stazaker sings with a strong hint of venom on ‘Everyday’. It’s not an oblique reference to The Handmaid’s Tale, but it should be a feminist / working class anthem in the offing.

The album’s longest song, ‘Goddess’, is a multi-layered emotional dredger that functions on multiple levels. ‘Hail Hail Rain and Sail’ is a lively, even fiery folk tune with just vocals and energetically-strummed acoustic guitar. The format is simple, but the effect is powerful, and Follow Me succeeds because of its confidence: Stazaker demonstrates perfectly that less is more when done right, and with so many strong songs, Follow Me is all the force.

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1st March 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Lusterlit are a duo comprising Charlie Nieland and Susan Hwang. The pair are part of Bushwick Book Club, in Brooklyn, a rotating group of songwriters and performers put who on regular shows featuring new music, art and snacks inspired by a chosen work of literature.

Concept and eclecticism are evidently very much core to their ethos: they promise ‘a mix of styles ranging from indie to soul to shades of shoegaze, reminiscent of PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, U2 and more,’ and, unusually, draw their lyrical inspiration entirely from the literary world. As someone who often bemoans the dumbing down of rock music, while running around shouting about how literature is the new rock ‘n’ roll because literature is the original rock ‘n’ roll and rock ‘n’ roll is dead, this appeals, at least if one perhaps overlooks the mention of U2.

List of Equipment somehow sounds like something Steve Albini would call an album or an EP, and it follow on from their previous releases, Hopeful Monsters and Everything is Sateen: Five Songs Inspired by Vonegut.

The first track, ‘Ceremony (Inspired by Blood Meridian)’ may not be a New Order cover, but does create a slow-building, claustrophobic atmosphere. But with some mournful guitars sliding beneath Hwang’s vocal, which in turn calls to mind the spirit and sound of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, its haunting darkness is still infinitely more accessible than Cormac McCarthy’s text. The song builds to a swirling climax of breaking tension, the drums rumbling like thunder in the distance.

In keeping with the eclectic sourcing of material, the title track draws its inspiration from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. ‘We’re all gonna die,’ Hwang rasps against a nagging, insistent stomp. The gentle middle eight drops into a more baking-friendly zone before all hell breaks loose with frenzied pianos and percussive detonations that punches an angry hole in the coffee table fodder of a book listed on Amazon a ‘a statement, not of culinary intent, but of aspiration.’

The inspiration for the murky The Day of the Triffids – a work I first encountered as a child via the 1970s BBC adaptation – requires no explanation here, and with clattering, minimal beats and a woozy, squirming synth, Lusterlit convey the creeping fear of John Wyndham’s classic novel with disturbing adeptness.

The swing into funk-tinged soul for ‘Fight’, the first of a diptych of songs inspired by Johnathan Letham’s The Fortress of Solitude (a book I’ll admit that I haven’t read) marks a significant stylistic shift, and while it’s not my musical bag, it’s slickly executed, and demonstrates the wide-ranging versatility of Lusterlit’s musical skills, with Nieland’s dextrous picking having as natural a flow as Hwang’s soulful vocals. Its counterpart song, ‘Genius of Love’ lays down a late-night groove with a shuffling drum and over the course of its six minutes, channels a dreamy atmosphere, rounding off a set of songs that are intelligent, articulate and appealing, without any offputting airs of intellectual snobbery.

 

Lusterlit - List of Equiptment Cover