Astrid Williamson - Pulse
Time to abandon the courage of your own convictions when, in the face of what appears to be an overwhelming consensus, you find yourself disconcertingly at odds. Word is, this (her fifth) is Astrid Wiliamson's best album to date. Finally after the promise shown as leader of the essential but short-lived Goya Dress, and a subsequent body of solo that pitches her as an exponent of classic song-writing akin to the likes of Nerina Pallot and Thea Gilmore, here she is, born anew, casting aside the shackles of method and expectation, and carried forward by the direction and belief of new producer Leo Abrahams.
Abrahams, a guitarist of some repute, has production and collaboration credits not to be sniffed at, and here his methods have been ruthless. The preparation for recording saw many of Williamson's initial demos jettisoned; stripped down and re-recorded in a more intimate, atmospheric, effects-laden setting. Much of Pulse is incredibly spare, backing not much more than a piano, hushed strings, inobtrusive electronic beats. The voice, a jewel as ever, is to the fore but often little more than a whisper or a breath.
The endeavour and focus are laudable, no doubt about it. At the very least, Pulse sounds eminently sure-footed, carrying an undeniable sense of identity and steely focus. Compromise go hang, it says. Here's an album designed to please no-one but its committed creators and that drive deserves respect. But it leaves me unutterably cold. Warmed by the thrilling broadening of her palette on previous album Here Come the Vikings and second to none in my admiration of her accomplishments as a live performer, I'm baffled by this. I don't get it, I don't like it and I'm at a loss as to what others are finding to latch onto.
Beyond the opening piano fidure on 'Soar', nothing has really stuck. Tracks skitter in on minimal beats, mournful vocals and washes of sound slowly build but the absence of melody makes the experience startling and difficult to savour. Sorry, Astrid but you wrote 'True Romance', you wrote the soaring, sumptuous 'Ruby' and you played beautiful guitar and sung out to the skies, loud and true. To see you dull that flame for this is verging on criminal. I must be wrong. Somebody tell me I'm wrong. Convince me.