In The Absence of Light is the new EP from singer/songwriter musician Polly Scattergood and follows on from her long-awaited third album In This Moment, released back in July last year.
Being in lockdown certainly hasn’t curtailed Polly’s creative vision, and output and this latest musical project sees her orbit the earth artistically and spiritually. The EP is a writing and production collaboration with Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds/ Sonic Youth/ Grinderman) and producer Glenn Kerrigan.
Whilst In The Absence Of Light isn’t a major departure from her last album in terms of its sound, the nature of the collaboration with Sclavunos, who co-wrote two songs on In This Moment, is an evolving one, particularly in relation to the themes of transporting people to different emotional worlds. In The Absence Of Light just happens to take it to another dimension.
“Whilst locked down; we looked up. Dreaming of faraway landscapes and spaces in the distance,” explains Polly of a project that began with stargazing escapism and evolved into a study in the science and mythology of outer space. “We researched planets and solar systems and found inspiration in a dreamlike journey. A shimmering darkness twisting around mythology and science but shrouded in a vast unknown. These journeys were then reflected upon from our more grounded space, mid-pandemic, trapped between four walls. All writing sessions via video link. Time delays and interference all added to the energy within this project.”
“I have known Jim for many years, and we had previously worked together in my studio in Camden.” Polly recalls, “When lockdown came in, we decided to do some virtual writing sessions, the new-found time that we both had on our hands. We would get together on a video call at midday and just keep the session running until we had a song. Glenn Kerrigan, my long-time collaborator, was on hand to help us conjure up a sound from the outer edge of the universe.”
Title track “In The Absence Of Light “ opens up with guitar glitches, synth pulses and scrapes of electronic sounds, creating an ornate, outer-worldly atmosphere with Polly’s fragmented vocal asking: “In the absence of light, can you say that I’m blind?” Dusty, drawn-out electronic guitar chords and orchestral strings add a mystical ambience as Polly ponders: “Is there anybody out there?”
The current single “Saturn 9” is a poppy, pleasant surprise with a more up-tempo beat than Polly normally delivers. A pun on the word “saturnine”, meaning “gloomy, moody or mysterious”, this track is the earth’s core of the EP if you like – a song about Earth’s inhabitants emerging from the gloom of lockdown into a radiant Summer of hope. It’s really catchy and exuberant thanks to flourishes of panpipe instrumentation and banging synthpunk beats. The accompanying video sees a retro-colourful, smiley-faced and Lycra-clad gang of friends dancing through the streets, beatbox in hand - a video that is all about movement, energy, and sharing positive feelings with each other. An ace track.
The ambient, experimental “Shadows” opens with spirals of synth and Polly’s trademark post-punk edgy vocal: “Look behind – what do you see? Echoing you, shadowing me? A vapour trail of baby steps that we’ve taken….. then forsaken”. There’s something very outward-looking about the lyrics while the deep, penetrating pulses of synth create an introspective atmosphere.
Closing track “Looking For A God”, inspired by the planet Pluto and its moon Charon is lyrically thought-provoking, with Polly breathily vocalising the comparisons between the two forces: “ I am the conflict, you are the flight, I am the story, you are the light” … Then “I am the ritual, you are the saint, I am the peace, you are the pain “ which suggest, despite their differences, a cosmic co-dependency between this moon and planet that happen to share the same orbital axis. Background “ooh-oohs” add a hint of soul to the simple, sparse instrumentation of tin drum beats and twangs of guitar.
In The Absence Of Light is indicative of Polly’s desire to experiment with all types of sound to make something really visual. Listening to In The Absence Of Light is like an escape into a cosmos soundscape, a flight from the realities of a lockdown life into space with Polly as an “Astro- mythical” storyteller on each heavenly track.
In The Absence Of Light is an inspired listen, an exploration into space - both musically and spiritually.