Artist: Woman’s Hour
Label: Secretly Canadian / Cargo Records
Woman’s Hour are not your average band. The first clue comes in the name of the London-based four-piece, taken from a beloved female-focused news and culture show on BBC Radio 4. The second is in their graphic, striking monochrome visuals, meticulously curated in collaboration with TATE and MOMA certified fine artists Oliver Chanarin and Adam Broomberg. These play with shape and texture, much like their powerful, iridescent music. On their excellent debut album ‘Conversations’, this has the intricate construction and intimacy of The xx and the iridescent shimmer of summer-defining indie pop. Pay attention now, or regret it later.
“In a sense, we feel like the odd ones out”, explains frontwoman Fiona Burgess of their nose-to-tail approach to their visuals, performance and songcraft. “It’s quite empowering that we’re doing it as four people but we’re not part of a bigger collective.” Indeed, their 360º approach is closer to the art/music crossover of acts such as Throbbing Gristle, Yoko Ono or Factory Floor than most of this year’s indie hopes. Their music – as poignantly personal as pop gets – has a rare singularity and purpose.
When the band put their gorgeously lilting single “Our Love Has No Rhythm” online in 2013, the blogs exploded, in part due to the glossy monochrome video depicting Fiona’s face in close-up, and also the stunning single artwork – an uneasy found image of a suited gentleman falling over. “We’ve been using images that are taken from manuals,” explains Fiona. “Lots of different ‘How To’ manuals from How to Train a Chihuahua to How to Fall Over Without Hurting Yourself. We like the idea of how to look after yourself physically paired with the music, which is a lot less direct.”
Perhaps Woman’s Hour’s music does not hammer its message home, but there’s a nuance and craft that’s scarcely found in today’s industry. They followed “Our Love Has No Rhythm”, with the Beach House-esque “Darkest Place” in which Fiona implores “I don’t understand why you’re not around” over swooning keyboards, with a cooing ooooh-ooooh hook. Single “Her Ghost” layers breezy guitar with Fiona’s beautiful, sighing lyric of inner turmoil. “I’m interested in the idea of memory and how powerful memories can be, and how powerful some things can be to let go of,” she says. “A lot of my writing is me trying to understand an emotion or situation.” The track’s melody and message lingers in the recesses of the mind like a box of treasured letters.
Woman’s Hour have an uncompromising commitment to the unconventional. For them, music does not exist as merely a hummable soundtrack but as a wider and more artistic proposition. As Fiona continues: “A lot of music videos are not very challenging, and I like the idea of them being quite confronting. Our album artwork is inspired by a picture of a woman surrounded by pyramids that was part of a magazine article called The Start of an Era. It was a 1970s performance piece that was performed at the Whitney Museum in New York, and we’ve also designed nine of these pyramids with Oliver Chanarin that we’ll incorporate into our live show when possible.” The Start of an Era? We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
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