The story of the artist’s retreat into nature to recalibrate their focus, a grand exodus away from the sirens of the city and towards the sirens of rocky coastlines or imagined Waldens, has been told enough times now. In this tale, the hero – let’s call her Louise McCraw – sees her band break up in the latter half of 2018, and soon seeks out a quiet place to begin work on a new project.
Rather than channelling the log cabin fantasies of Bon Iver or Big Thief, the Edinburgh-based songwriter opts instead for the Westfjords of Iceland. After a period of work and reflection, she returns to the world as Goodnight Louisa, her work now presumably distilled into a rawer essence by the power of nature, and so on.
Only for McCraw, while the soundscapes that populate ‘Human Danger’ will no doubt attract the location-appropriate set of clichés – icy beats, shimmering synths, glacial melodies, etc. – its heart and words return over and over to people themselves, specifically within busy city scenes. Sometimes they’re more elegiac, as on ‘Margaret’ or ‘Alchemy In Slow Motion’, and it’s a pleasure to let it wash over you.
But quite often they’re raw and uncompromising in their honesty, and it’s these moments that shine the brightest on a radiant debut. ‘Get Your Hands Off My Girlfriend’ is surely one of the finest synth-pop singles in recent memory, a burst of vitriol detailing McCraw’s experiences of homophobic abuse while out with her girlfriend, even in gay clubs.
While every track on the album alludes to society’s dangers in some capacity – hence the title – ‘Only A Matter Of Time’ is particularly affecting. Originally written as a reflection on how police in 1970s Yorkshire told women to stay at home to avoid being murdered, the song has come to bear the weight of Sarah Everard’s death since. “Fuck the dark, I’m sick of being scared of all that lurks behind my shoulders when I walk alone, my keys between my fingers” she sings, and half the world sighs in recognition.
As the album winds to a close, McCraw offers an existential reflection: “How do you undo forever gone?” Across the various legacies explored on the record, from lost relatives to Princess Diana, the way we balance loss against permanence is perhaps answered: we write songs and tell stories about their lives after they’re gone, and while they’re still here, and sometimes while they’re still in the middle of writing their own.
Words: Matthew Neale
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