‘It’s a quiet, somewhat humble, record, short and well judged, evocative and occasionally weird. Intriguing, surprisingly arresting stuff’ – Dara Higgins on former JJ72 bassist Hilary Woods’ The River Cry.
JJ72 may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, despite record sales suggesting otherwise, but ex bassist Hilary Wood’s solo album, released ten years after she packed in indie stardom, sounds not one iota like the bludgeoning teenage angst of the olden days. That’s a good place to start, then.
Much could made of the location of the recording, the Beara Peninsula, and how the stark desolation of that place is reflected in the music. It’s true to an extent, but the music isn’t cold, or blowy and wet, and has zero German tourists. It sounds more like an unfurnished, old house, looking out across the roiling surf. The emptiness and exposure of the outside world is kept at bay.
Opening track ‘While I Lie’ seems mournful, slow tempoed plodding on chords, accompanied only by a neat and tidy guitar line. It floats off toward the end with a brief flurry of violin, then dies. There’s something celebratory in this melancholy. The tone is set for the whole record, wistful and soporific, the kind of album you listen to on your own, late in the evening.
‘Sleep Baby Sleep’ uses the cymbals in an elemental way, surging up like surf under the muttered wail of the chorus. ‘To the Sea’, creates more imagery, the piano rolling in a way vaguely similar to the Cranes, way back when. Cymbals and guitar add to the effect, and then the strings wade in simply and sparely, and lift it up.
‘Miaow’ moves away from the piano for a bit, with a tremulous guitar and a timorous accordion, it sounds like there might be a Mexican standoff between artist and cat. Cats are like that, weird and needy and simultaneously standoffish, constantly clamouring for attention they don’t even want. ‘The Devil Knows’, is of an early Nick Cave ilk. Something plucked from The Firstborn Is Dead, including crashing drums and a simple line twanged on an acoustic string. With less posturing, of course. ‘Raise The Red Lantern’, where the album comes to its end, is about as rousing as it get, the piano chopping at the chords, the voice rising up briefly, before it all ends, almost as it began.
There’s a wealth of influences appearing, wraith like, amid the muttering pianner. She manages to get them while somehow sounding like herself. Easy comparisons are the reverby emptiness of the Cowboy Junkies first record, but this lacks that despondency. It’s more of a sober Moon Pix, where none of the space created, nor notes hit, sound like happy accidents. Judging the silence, however brief, in songs is always far more difficult than creating tension with noise. The sparseness of the recording adds its own textures and layers. It’s a quiet, somewhat humble, record, short and well judged, evocative and occasionally weird. Intriguing, surprisingly arresting stuff.