onDeadWaves is a collaboration between Polly Scattergood and James Chapman. Scattergood has thus far released two albums of soul-baring frankness that feels like the listener is being invited to hear her most private thoughts; Chapman, as Maps, has done something similar across a body of work that has seen him produce a suite of heart-wrenching electronic pop albums, through which his own oblique emotional outpourings have been woven.
A pairing together of these two artists could be a frightening prospect, like the soundtrack to a heavy therapy session, but ‘onDeadWaves’ is a world away from their respective solo careers. Yes, there's a cloud hanging over proceedings – songs about chasing dead balloons, mysterious blackbirds, tracks with titles like ‘Blue Inside’ – but working together seems to have allowed Scattergood and Chapman to reinvent themselves, even if temporarily. Here we find the pair imagining what Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood would have sounded like if they'd ditched 1960s kitsch for a post-Altamont glumness, the two singers harmonising in a flat, detached, whispered fashion which is as mesmerising as it is maudlin.
Most surprising, given the work with electronic music that has dominated both the careers of both Scattergood and Chapman, is the near absence of anything resembling a synth. Instead, ‘onDeadWaves’ has a stripped-back, nascent, haunted bluesy quality to it, which makes tracks like ‘Never Over’ – with a chorus so deceptively simple it will trouble you for days – both arresting and intriguing by equal measure. When collaborations like this take the artists so far from their comfort zones, and when the results are as profoundly successful as these, you do have to wonder why they'd ever go back. There’s plenty more life in these here dead waves on the evidence of this record.
Words: Mat Smith / @mjasmith
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