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A Damn Fine Album Decorated With Kittens Dressed As Ghosts
Ladyhawke - Ladyhawke
Member Name: missrarr
Ladyhawke - Ladyhawke
Advantages: A brilliant, capable, self-assured debut
Disadvantages: Can't think of a single one
My musical taste is pretty varied and eclectic, stretching from the likes of Iron Maiden to Bob Dylan via Girls Aloud and a thousand obscure indie acts and household names in between; in short I am always looking for the next noise that intrigues and fascinates me, and a few years ago one such discovery was made when I first heard "Me Delerium" by a new act called Ladyhawke. It was one of those moments when you first hear a song and then can't wait to catch it again, and I almost instantly awaited the release of the debut album.
Well, Ladyhawke is not so much a band as such (although there is undeniably the input of more than one person to the sound) but a person - in much the same sense that Florence + The Machine is in fact really a solo act. Lady Hawke is Phillipa Margaret Brown (Pip), born in 1979 and a native of New Zealand.
Obviously highly skilled, Pip plays multiple instruments and this applies to her own music, and has a history in the music industry as part of various bands and acts before finding fame with her solo material. A slender, individualistic blonde, she reportedly doesn't feel that she loses any femininity despite her preference to wear clothes designed for males.
Her name, according to Wikipedia, is actually taken from a film of the same title, and it is also the title given to her debut album, which was released by Modular Recordings in 2008.
Ladyhawke's music is basically an indie-based electro pop/rock experiment that for me is both modern and inventive but also has serious influences from 80s pop, the overall sound being now much grander than those influences were, possibly down to advances in production and capabilities of synth- and electro-led music but also maybe down to the further influence of music that has come along since.
"Black White & Blue", the first release from her new album, Anxiety, was released in January of this year. For more about the artist, you can visit ladyhawkemusic.com.
So when it was released, Ladyhawke the album had already put out there the catchy "My Delerium" and I had also heard what remains one of my favourites tracks on the album, the brilliantly poppy "Paris Is Burning". I was, at this point, desperate to get my hands on a copy and gleefully nabbed one the day it came out.
Being a bit of a traditionalist - I like to hold a CD in my hands and admire that artwork rather than just hit iTunes, so here's a quick observation on that; the cover features Ladyhawke herself playing on a video game console with cats looking on, as drawn in a watercolour-style medium , while on the back three kittens play under white sheets made to look like Halloween ghosts. The tracklisting is in a handwriting-style font on the back. I think that the illustrations on the back are quite cute, although overall it's not artwork to rave about.
There are 13 tracks on the album so my one worry was that there would be a lot of fillers, although the reviews were already encouraging, among them:
"Big tunes. Big lovable and expertly crafted tunes" - 4/5 from Observer Music Monthly
"The Cyndi Lauper for the American Apparel age...twinkly, heart-racing 80s pop" - 8/10 NME
Brilliant electropop tunes...what talent, what style!" 4/5 Grazia
One nostalgia trip that's worth taking" - Q.
1 - MAGIC
Used to the high-octane pace of "My Delerium" and the contrasting poppiness of "Paris Is Burning", the intro to "Magic" was a bit of a surprise; it's quite dark, bordering on the epic, but straight away the tone of the album is set from a technical perspective, with lots of electro-based, well-executed brilliance on offer. After about 20 seconds the grand opening abruptly ends to let the more stripped-down backing sounds of the track take over and Ladyhawke's vocals, breathy and slightly morose, take over for a little before the chorus, when the grand intro kicks back in while the singer berates the unfairness of loving someone from another country, someone she couldn't get out of her head after meeting only to find that an ocean seperates them. "I've left my heart to you but it's not fair...I've made a start with you but it's not fair, cause you're over the Atlantic baby" illustrate the frustration behind trying to persuade the object of the lyrics that one journey would mean a life together that would be, as per the track title, magic.
An intriguing introduction to the album which perfectly highlights how well produced the tracks are; normally this would give cause for concern that the live performance might be lacking something in the execution, but everything I've seen of Ladyhawke live suggests that she doesn't hide behind high-production treatment in the studio and only puts out there something that she is capable of living up to. The songwriting here is strong and the delivery of the lyrics is not only technically accurate but also really does compound the misery and frustration expressed within the words and I have no problem believing that this could well be entirely biographical from the singer.
2 - MANIPULATING WOMAN
As the more steadily-paced "Magic" comes to its conclusion we move straight into the faster pace of "Manipulating Woman"; a subtle base underpins the more irregular electro-based top notes, which give this track a very 80s feel, Ladyhawke's lyrics are much smoother than the tune behind them which is a pleasant contrast as she sings about the manipulating female the title refers to. The chorus builds slightly but largely this song is based on the far lighter backing track than "Magic", and there is light use of backing vocals here which unite those two elements of track and lyrics. In the middle there is a darker twist as the singer's resentment becomes more obvious in her voice.
3 - MY DELERIUM
The track that suddenly rocketed the artist into the limelight comes next, with the former two tracks showing that, as with the first two single releases, there's more variety on this album than you might think when faced with descriptions about electro pop and 80s influences.
"My Delerium" has energy and pace in abundance, strong 80s influences are all over it and the basis of the track is fast moving and contrasts stunningly well with the more steady delivery of the lyrics. "No rest til I get through, cause I'm holding out for you...am I the only one who's insane?" gives you an idea of what you're dealing with here; infatuation, the feeling of emotions and feelings being played with and the impact of that being so much stronger when you're powerless to resist and firmly in the thrall of someone.
For me this song really captures the frustration and intensity that can come with some relationships and infatuations, the track itself is something that you can dance to or drive to, it crosses that line between indie-influences pop perfectly, being a track you could easily her in a club, remixed, belting out of someone's convertible in summer or jump around to at a festival with complete abandon. An absolute pop gem that grabs you from the start and doesn't let up - just like the feelings described in the lyrics. An absolutely brilliant way to make yourself known to the music-buying public.
4 - BETTER THAN SUNDAY
After the thrill ride that was "My Delerium" we have the more sedate start of "Better Than Sunday", which is far less intense and opens with quite a stripped-down style (as stripped-down as something as multi-layered and well produced as this brand of electro-indie-pop music can) and the lyrics are understated at first, then after the first minute the song builds in intensity and, whilst it remains a lighter song than what came before it, this song is another example in Ladyhawke not only explaining the emotions and feelings in relationships through her words but also through the way she uses words and her voice to reflect both the intensity of her feeling and also the track that shows off her vocal talents - whilst there is a lot going on in this track, and indeed most of hers - it is not jarring, the voice and the music work beautifully together and the result is thoroughly enjoyable. "I'm falling out of view, I'm sinking into you" sings Ladyhawke, with a pretty backing track illustrating those feelings in an equally effective, if completely different, way to the intensity of "My Delerium" and "Magic".
5 - ANOTHER RUNAWAY
After the gradual end of the previous song, a quick intro and we're into the lyrics on this one; faster in pace than some on the album, this is a poppy number but the lyrics are delivered with patience and this reflects the melancholy about it being "too late to call back yesterday" and the song is directed at someone who never treated the singer as anything other than a "part time woman", the runaway in the title being her. Whilst not my favourite track on the album, I still think this is a strong song - it's just up against some very good competition from the artist's other work!
6 - LOVE DON'T LIVE HERE
A more pensive intro to a song about realising that the love has gone from a relationship that is now ending; "lonely hearts are always wanting more, but only parts of mine were still unsure". The lyrics are delivered here in a way that is breathy but resigned rather than sorrowful, but this is not a depressing song, with backing vocals used slightly and layering of the lyrics, and their delivery, complementing the track beautifully. This is a really strong track, easy to listen to and perfect for bars and clubs that are too achingly hip for words, I don't doubt (I don't tend to frequent them myself!). That feeling of being resigned to the direction of a relationship is, for me, emphasised by the way the end of the track builds and the lyrics drop into the background slightly, a confused mess of feelings.
7 - BACK OF THE VAN
A real 80s synthy lighter pop feeling kicks this one off; a music tale of intense feeling for someone, a feeling so intense that being apart from them leaves the singer convinced that she is losing the person in question. The verses are a contrast to the chorus, with a more steady pace before a twinkling electro note is added to the track and Ladyhawke sings that "you set me on, you set me on, you set me on fire", the chorus emphasising her passion for the person in question. Half way through the track there is a slight change in the delivery of the song, and her paranoia of losing the person is expressed.
Easy to listen to , easy to relate to for many, beautifully produced and even danceable. I love this track, and again it's not even the strongest one on show here.
8 - PARIS IS BURNING
Ah, the song that took what "My Delerium" initially inspired in me and compounded it. I love "Paris Is Burning", for it's poppy, unashamed brilliance, jumping almost straight in with the lyrics, a tale of a hedonistic time in Paris, drinking and dancing, not being able to keep up but going along with it anyway; "is it love or just Paris?". The chorus to this is stunningly well done, with a poppy and upbeat yet steady track with plenty going on and a simple base connecting chorus and verse. This is a fabulous 80s-influenced pop gem and never fails to make me want to dance. It's also perfect for summer drives with the roof down. Beautiful, fun, and wonderfully done. A triumph!
9 - PROFESSIONAL SUICIDE
A song about professional envy between musicians? Who knows. There's some unveiled digs at someone in this, about a musician ("You sing what you want and you play what you want, but it's s*** what you do and it sucks what you play"), the title referring to the subject's apparent determination to destroy their own career through self indulgence and self importance.
Measured in its tone and delivery, this is nonetheless a fun, upbeat track, maybe not one of the strongest on show but undeniably fun - unless you are the person it was written about, I suspect!
10 - DUST TILL DAWN
Whoo, the 80s are back like they never left! Base, base and more base on this one, with a strong rhythm and an intense feeling throughout parts of the song, a catchy chorus (lots of "doo doo do doo" etc!), this is so inviting to dance to, actually quite dark and seductive with a lighter interlude between verses for the chorus, all of it underpinned by the continual beat. It's not the most ambitious song every written but it's effective and does what it is meant to - it makes you want to move! Love it.
11 - OH MY
"I've waited patiently, but patience has a fee, all my love has gone unnoticed". There's a softer delivery in the lyrics here against a fast-paced track, this is another heavily 80s-influenced track. The contrast between lyrics and the track itself is really nice here but it's not the strongest on the album by a long way.
12 - CRAZY WORLD
This is a beautiful track; the track itself is quite fast-paced but the delivery of lyrics is elegant and steady, with a simple yet catchy and beautifully sung chorus about the crazy world we're part of. It's a faintly euphoric track overall (particularly during the break from lyrics towards the end of the song) and the lyrics and track complement each other strongly; another one for summer evenings.
13 - MORNING DREAMS
By far the slowest track on the album, and, initially, I found this to be a sedate disappointment to end on. However, this is a grower and just by chance I personally feel that I now know precisely the emotions Ladyhawke is trying to portray through her lyrics, about a partner looking "a little better each day" and both people in a relationship trying harder for one another in life, about morning dreams coming true; "and only for your eyes do I sing these lullabies". This verse completely sums up the intention of the lyrics:
"Everything you do is all I need to know, cause I'm yours, I'll never let you down, anywhere you are is where I want to be, anywhere any time or place".
So looking at it as an individual song rather than the conclusion of an album, it's a beautiful song, in contrast to the confused relationships described in earlier tracks it's a reassuring, beautiful testament to a happy relationship and the instinctive commitment the artist feels. It's elegantly delivered, a little ethereal without losing the tone of the rest of the album, and I have grown to love this track and now respect it as a beautiful end to what has been, without doubt, a seriously impressive debut effort.
You don't need me to tell you that I love this album. I love the way Ladyhawke conveys her intentions through lyrics that are not only accessible but also delivered with a good voice in a way that complements the electro-inspired backing. Her influences are unashamed and the overall effect is great; I would love to see her live in person but all live performances I've seen have been strong and I just don't think that this is an artist who would ever hide behind a strong production team without knowing that she herself could live up to the effort that gets committed to CD.
In all, this is a great debut. It's not so heavily directed to any genre of electro, indie, rock, pop or anything that it would alienate any listeners, it flows nicely and has a good duration to it, the lyrics are easy to connect to and convey the feeling behind the song's intent, and whilst everyone will prefer some songs to others I don't really think there is a naff track on here - filler free and utterly fun, in places dark and others light, full of the frustrations of love but also the delights of it, hedonistic fun, overall I found it uplifting and completely enjoyable to listen to. I think that the artist's commitment and enjoyment of her own influences and sound shines through and if you're one of the lucky ones who share those leanings then I think you'll wholeheartedly love this self-assured debut. I think it's time I bought the follow up.
Summary: A fabulous debut, unashamed intelligent pop with plenty of character and great feeling and lyrics