After Glaswegian indie rockers The Delgados called it a day in 2005, vocalist Emma Pollock decided to try her hand as a solo artist, taking drummer and husband Paul Savage with her as a producer. She released her debut, Watch the Fireworks, on 4AD in 2007 and a follow-up, The Law of Large Numbers, three years later on Chemikal Underground, the label founded with her former bandmates back in 1994. Both albums were tidy enough efforts which saw Pollock trying her hand at a range of styles, all without straying too far from her earlier work with The Delgados.
After a five year gap Emma Pollock has returned with her third album, In Search of Harperfield. A lot has been going on in Pollock’s life of late, with the death of her mother after a long illness last February triggering her to look back into her past. The title hints at Pollock’s quest for answers and reassessment, with Harperfield being the very first house her parents bought together after they married before she was born. The subject matter on In Search of Harperfield is therefore quite personal, but it’s the way that she’s chosen to convey her feelings that grabs your attention.
Sufjan Stevens dealt with similar parental themes on last year’s Carrie & Lowell, but he did so in a melancholic manner with a soundtrack that was dream-like and sparse. Pollock on the other hand has chosen a different direction, producing something much grander and vivid. In Search of Harperfield contains a melting pot of ideas, featuring a dynamic blend of chamber pop, ballads and rock. Not only is it diverse, but it’s also very cohesive and tastefully arranged, containing no loose ends or filler. Strings are put to use fantastically and vocally Pollock is at her beguiling best, with impressionistic lyrics that strike a nice balance between the playful and plaintive.
It doesn’t take many listens for the album to take hold, particularly given the quality of its opening tracks which quickly highlight the diversity of the record. The dreamy, piano-led lament “Cannot Keep a Secret” gets things rolling nicely, before catchy rocker “Don’t Make Me Wait” and the slow building “Alabaster” sweep you off your feet. But if the album hasn’t earned your approval you by this point then it likely will by the time the superbly elegant chamber pop of “Intermission” arrives. “Parks and Recreation” and “Vacant Stare” add some punchy and playful indie-rockers around the mid-point, while the latter third adds to the albums diversity with some delicate numbers,, including the acoustic-led cosmic reflections of “Dark Skies”.
In Search of Harperfield is Emma Pollock’s finest and most immediate work to date. Her previously band The Delgados were often overlooked and underappreciated, it would be a real shame if the same was to happen with Pollock’s solo work, especially after creating such a beautiful and dynamic record such as this. It’s still early days but you wouldn’t bet against this album popping up on a few end of year lists come December.
Key Tracks: Don’t Make Me Wait; Alabaster; Intermission; Dark Skies
Released: 29th January 2016
Label: Chemikal Underground
Genres: Chamber Pop
Rating: Strong 8 to a Light 9