OnDeadWaves is a collaboration project between two successful Mute artists, James Chapman (A.K.A. Maps) and Polly Scattergood. They worked together at the Mute Short Circuit Festival at the Roundhouse (just over five years to the day) and got on so well they decided they would not leave their musical partnership there.
XS Noize has run a number of articles heralding this band. In particular, their second single release “Blue Inside” was a Track of the Day feature and we got to catch up with them for one of their first interviews back in March, where they chatted about their musical influences, how they got together and their forthcoming live date plans. So the release of their self-titled debut album, released 20th May on Mute Records has been eagerly anticipated. And it doesn’t disappoint. “Blackbird” is the opening track and was also their first single release back in November last year. It is a real indicator of what to expect from the rest of the album – Polly’s breathless vocal in perfect accompaniment with James’ deep tone.
The song has a melancholic yearning that almost produces a summer haze as you listen to it – “My dreams are like Summer, And yours are like Spring, Lets sleep until Sunrise, Sing Blackbird Sing.” A dusty guitar introduces the next track, the sultry “Never Over” which feels like it is almost bathed in sunlight. “Desert-like” synth sounds add atmosphere and help this song to shimmer. “California” is the most upbeat song of the album and a real retro highlight. It smacks of 60s dizzy “folk – psychedelia” yet despite the breezy, uplifting melody of the song, the lyrics carry the band’s signature dark undertone in its chorus – “Cherry said, Come to bed, We’re all dead in California”. “Hollow” has a noir take on “dusky American”. Polly sounds hushed as she sings “Hollow are my Angels” while an even, steady beat of percussion and guitar accompany her. James’ vocal shadows her as always, and with the introduction of an organ at the bridge of the song, the sound takes on a distinct 60s vibe again. It’s a solemn yet serene track.
“Alice” is a spell-binding song, almost ghost –like. Gentle guitar opens the song quietly while Polly’s vocal is dreamy and ethereal, with a touching fragility – this is almost a lullaby – it is stripped back, simple and is a strangely seductive listen and at the end, the song sounds like it is being carried away on the wind. “Dead Balloons” starts with a drone that gives you a sense of stillness but with a quiet, eerie expectation. Polly breathes “Steal the sunlight from my garden, Darkness always comes too soon”. Gradually, layers of percussion are delicately added until the catchy chorus carries steady strums of bass guitar. The song is about chasing something over and over again, something that is always within your grasp but just out of reach. It’s the current single release and one of the best songs on the album.
The sublime “Blue Inside” follows – this song was an instant hit with XS Noize, one of those songs that you fall in love with instantly. From its twanging guitar –filled inception, this is a song that has a real impact each time it’s played. One of those songs you need to hear several times in a row because you want to wrap yourself up in it each time. A cover of Edith Piaf’s “Autumn Leaves” is next which makes this an intriguing listen – it is loyal to the original whilst having the band’s stamp on it and fits in well with the rest of the album. It’s a song of love and longing and James’ and Polly’s vocal combine beautifully here.
“Jupiter” is filled with punchy percussion and an assured drum beat – it is again one of the more uplifting songs and the synth carries a menacing tone whilst Polly and James paradoxically sing happily “Dance in the rain, it makes us smile like we used to” – it’s a dreamy delight. The album closes with “Winter’s Child”. Starting off with a solitary whistle, one can almost picture tumbleweed being blown through a deserted Wild West town. The sound of tolling bell adds heaviness to the atmosphere as they chant their own name “ On Dead Waves…On Dead Waves” with the bell- sound omni-present in the background along with the haunt of that whistle continuing right through until a singular cymbal sound announces the end. Perfect.
OnDeadWaves have set out to make a “visual” album and it certainly “feels” like that – every song has its own soundscape. It is a piece of work reflecting dark memories and buried emotions. The lack of synth is more than made up with soft percussion, organ and guitars which all add to the broodiness of the album. Polly and James, two artists well known for their place in the electronic world have come up with a new sound, combining their creative talents with poetry and cleverly arranged instrumentation. Highly recommended.
If you can, please catch them live at Birthdays, Dalston, London on 7th June.