Let’s get this out the way first: ‘Conversations’ probably isn’t the best album you’ve heard all year.
It’s an album with flaws, with odd moments of misconception. But alongside this, it’s the rare sound of a band, namely Woman’s Hour, making good on the hype, justifying the relentless (primarily digital) exposure that has followed them for 12 months.
‘Conversations’ is a pop record, that much we can say. The melodies are built for consumption, for being chewed over, tasted thoroughly and swallowed. Opener ‘Unbroken Sequence’ is built around a gorgeous sense of longing, while vocalist Fiona Jane Burgess allows ‘Her Ghost’ to transform parting into such sweet sorrow.
It’s an inviting sound, with the electronics – clipped, clinical as they are – always retaining a humane edge. ‘Darkest Place’ opens with ambience, before crackling into percussive clicks with a funky, machine-driven sense of soul. The butterfly synths at the opening of ‘In Stillness We Remain’ set the tone in seconds, effortlessly establishing a beautiful complex set of emotions.
As good as it is, ‘Conversations’ is not perfect. Affecting though she is, Burgess is still finding and refining her voice, with ‘Reflections’, for example, falling somewhat flat. Closer ‘The Day That Needs Defending’ feels awkward, a rather unsatisfying climax for an album that thrives on being able to sustain stunningly fulfilled emotion.
But that’s to dwell upon the negative. Arriving at the fringe of 2014 in a flurry of high-profile tips charts, listicles and other such media intrusions, Woman’s Hour have quietly gone about focussing on their own striking vision. ‘Conversations’ is an impressive album, in many ways a unique one in this current landscape – though you sense that the best may be yet to come.
Words: Robin Murray
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