Emma Pollock - In Search of Harperfield
“Look at my face tell me the truth / I'm not long for this world” asks the opening to Emma Pollock's third solo album In Search of Harperfield. The search begins for the historied Scottish musician's imagined past so it may reflect on her present, in her own words "Character explanation and daydreaming that end up transcending into song."
Pollock's mother died last year after a long illness, she describes the album being partly inspired by that; a pivot point at a particular age – the reversal of carer and cared for roles. The titular Harperfield Pollock searches for is her parents' home before her birth, there's no simple nostalgia for her own past but instead a joining of dots in her parents' past, an atavistic construction of answers to questions that can no longer be directly answered. Capturing a person's truth in art after their life has ebbed from them, the process of one's life being unravelling the truth about ourselves.
From the opening track we hear tension between plaintive lyrics and surging music, honey soaked vocals stray off kilter over discordant guitars forewarning detailed questions to come, the title 'Cannot Keep a Secret' an impossible feedback - an invitation to imagine. This theme accelerates in 'Don't Make Me Wait', "You’ll never make it on your own / What makes you think you’ll make it on your own” an impatient back and forth between kin and time. Not only idealism imagined.
There are many voices. 'Parks and Recreation''s full and accesible arrangements callback to growing pains against a schoolyard soundscape. 'Dark Skies' expansive orchestration paints a melancholia tinged fairy tale of the expansive land on which her father toiled, a yearning from her own city based present. 'In the Company of the Damned' self-appraises her past, a secondary modulated voice nodding in acceptance to "It's just too thick / The skin you're in."
'Intermission' is the pivot point. Pollock's crystal clear vocals in turn crystallise the album's central message of "grip dictated by kin": the security of parental bonds with "Won’t be apart from the woman who made me / The man I clutch to my chest", mournful of her father's work replaced by machines with "Pushing the years because we want to hang on", struggling for self-identity with "Take your hand off my possessions", and shifting to the present – a pivot within a pivot – the role reversal with "When did you become the defector leaving me the sole protector."
'Old Ghosts' concludes matters, a final attempt to make the yearned for connection to, and correction of, the past tangible with "Here I am the child that once revered you", a tentative stretch into the ancestral stillness for something to remain forever out of reach. There's no tentative stretch to compare Pollock's vocals with Dusty Springfield's, or remembering her vocals and lyrics as her former band The Delgados' driving forces.
Despite Pollock's gift of emotively articulating the construction her familial past, that familial past is only as extraordinary as each of ours. In Search of Harperfield's value derives from Pollock sharing her gift, allowing us to imagine our past to reflect on our present, no less than imagine our parents in as corporeal form as ourselves. An extraordinary and beautiful transportive work.