With her work initially with the wonderful The Delgados and after that as a solo artist, Emma Pollock has made an indelible mark on the Scottish music scene. The Delgados‘[ music inspired a legion of bands and their label Chemikal Underground is easily one of the most influential British indie labels there has ever. Add to the creation of Chem 19 studios and the work it has done both for the music community and the wider community at large and you begin to get an idea of the importance of the work Emma has been involved in since The Delgados‘ inception. Now, six years after her last solo release The Law Of Large Numbers, she has returned with her third solo album, In Search of Harperfield and, quite simply, it is one of the best albums you will hear this year.
The album’s title is central to its whole theme. Harperfield was the name of the first house Emma’s parents bought and she uses her childhood memories and a nostalgia for the past as a way to express herself of what is a very personal record. I love this type of music, introspective but warm and full of emotion. A bonus is that, like Emma, I’m from Castle Douglas in beautiful South West Scotland. The songs here share that part of the world’s space and my time there is something I look back on fondly. It’s hard for me not to love this album.
Opener Cannot Keep A Secret sets the scene perfectly. An understated but captivating verse leads to a piano driven, gripping chorus that propels the song along beautifully. The track, echoing its nautical lyrics, ebbs and flows and you are grabbed immediately. The superb dark pop of Don’t Make Me Wait follows, string laden and energetic with Emma’s voice soaring throughout. There is a distinct 60’s pop vibe here, something Dusty like which is a real joy. Alabaster starts like an experimental track, but is still warm and human despite its almost robotic feel and that leads into Clemency which brings to mind REM at their most serene, albeit a serenity laced with a tough lyrical edge. With an album this good, picking a highlight seems almost futile, but if pushed, I’d have to say Intermission is that highlight.
Beautifully evocative strings underpin an incredibly striking track that is all perfect melody and lyrics that you simply wish you had the ability to write. It;’s one of the best songs I’ve heard in ages and more than enough justification to get this album based on one track alone. As with all the songs here, the lyrics, whilst obviously distinctly personal, are so well written that you can easily interpret them to hold some meaning for yourself and Intermission is as good an example of that as there is. And as for that strings part running through the sing….wow.
Parks And Recreation changes the album’s tone next, a song that sounds like a call and response Pixies doing glam rock which is clearly a very good thing indeed. Guitars stay to the fore on Vacant Stare which, for me, brings to mind Belly’s Star which I have to say is nothing more than a high compliment. It’s a track that, along with Intermission, I’ve been playing on a loop since I heard this album. In The Company Of The Damned returns us to the contemplative nature of the opening tracks before the stunning Dark Skies arrives, rivalling Intermission in the album highlight stakes. It is s stunning track that shows off all the best there is to Emma Pollock’s talent. Just perfect. Monster In The Pack then leads us to the closer Old Ghosts which is just about as spot on an end to an album of this nature that you could hope for. Recalling the 60’s pop vibe of the earlier Don’t Make Me Wait, the song lifts you up, embraces you and floats away with you, closing off the album majestically.
In Search Of Harperfield is the sort of album that you hear and wish you had written. It’s emotional, evocative, warm and, frankly, bloody brilliant. This will be one of my albums of the year and I know that it will be one of yours.