They are created as labours of love over huge swathes of time with the only pressures and constraints being those imposed by the artist. Not for the debutantes are the spectres of people in suits tapping their watches insisting that ten great songs are plucked fully-formed out of the ether because the market has to have something by a certain date; and neither are there swathes of miserable sods waiting gleefully with sharpened pencils and dulled wits, desperate for the excuse to say how the new one isn’t as good as the last one.
Oh no, for we have to judge purely by the singular merits presented on the first album. The downside to this is that the first album has to find us. Thankfully in this case, helping hands were available to point me in the right direction.
Regular readers of this blog (of the type who aren’t spambots in Russia trying to sell me car parts, anyway) will know that I am rather fond of the somewhat quirky folk stylings of Erland and the Carnival, and they have very kindly not only taken Hannah Peel out on tour with them recently, but have also given one of her songs the Carnivalization treatment, where they take an artist’s song and add their brand of catchy lunacy to it, whilst still giving the original vocalist the whole of the centre stage. This was the first time I heard Hannah perform.
That song was Almond Tree, which also opens this album. And as much as E&TC make it fit in with their own canon of Carnivalizations, they do so with the spotlight firmly on Hannah’s voice and talent. And after hearing that, buying The Broken Wave was a complete no-brainer for me.
Folktronica seems a strange genre to have ever been invented, but The Broken Wave seems to fit the bill perfectly, with instrumentation and arrangements coming from pastures both old and new and sitting quite happily together without one ever overshadowing the other. The lyrics and themes to each song are a curious meld also, fragile as sugar-glass and more often than not very sad indeed but delivered with a conviction as tough and unbending as they are beautiful. A Song For the Sea wears its gentle pop hooks on its sleeves happily, but it doesn’t take much listening to the words to hear the heartbreak contained within. That this is followed immediately by the happily-romantic Today is Not So Far Away, reassuring listeners everywhere that there is much to be glad of here.
Arrangements are very confidently put together, not exactly minimalist or sparse, but keeping things to manageable amounts of instruments so that everything is heard and nothing is superfluous in carrying each song along, floating just underneath Hannah’s voice like a safety net. Gentle piano and strings sit happily next to the engagingly eccentric tweeting of restrained synth, and soft Brass sections evoke images of the colliery bands of Yorkshire where Hannah was raised, particularly during the main act-closing of Is This the Start?
After Hannah’s eight self-written tracks are over, the album finished with two traditional Irish numbers – Cailin Deas Cruite Na Mbo (A Pretty Girl, Milking Her Cow) has the faintest tinge of a late-period but restrained Clannad with its echoey drums and layered harmonies over the top of a synthetic backing, and The Parting Glass is performed mostly over the sound of backwards-recorded soft bleeps. These are both interesting ways to wind down this record, putting the oldest lyrical influences right at the end in an almost appendix-like fashion, saying “right, that’s where I’m from – coming up next’ll be where I’m going”. And I for one can’t wait to see what will come next from this unique and charming talent.