If red is the colour of resistance…
Having carved out a suitably impressive musical path marked out by quirky yet accessible electropop, Polly Scattergood has returned on the back of new album In This Moment. It follows an intriguing journey following on from her previous album (2013’s Arrows) that also saw a collaborative effort titled onDeadWaves with James Chapman (Maps) and a haunting take on the classic ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’.
While Arrows tracked closer to a more empathic pop direction, the compositions on In This Moment offers up a much more sedate experience. It’s a more meditative outing which is slower, thoughtful and more aware of mood and space. It suggests similarities with artists such as Sarah McLachlan or Natalie Merchant, bringing an intimacy that’s certainly a welcome respite during current troubling times.
It’s not necessarily an unsurprising direction for the musician to embark on, ‘Miss You’ from Arrows was a similarly quieter, more emotive offering.
In This Moment was also informed by a decision by Scattergood to depart these shores several years ago, seeking a more peaceful contrast to city life. Alongside partner and musical collaborator Glenn Kerrigan, she relocated to Fuerteventura. “I wanted to drop off the planet for a while”, Scattergood comments, “I wanted to start again. And disappear.“
But her life was also changed by motherhood, something which saw the singer/songwriter adapting to when she returned to the UK. Setting up home in her home studio on the Kent Coast, Scattergood slotted in songwriting in those sparse moments while her baby slept.
In This Moment is an album that’s been promoted as being inspired by “travel, soundtracks, Scandinavian films, and music that transports people to very different worlds; the kind of music that makes the listener shut their eyes and be taken on a journey.” It’s an apt description and there’s certainly a sense of embarking on a journey across the twelve songs.
Opening track ‘Red’ is a stirring piano-led reverie which is presented as a “clarion call to womankind”. Scattergood’s vocals are front and centre in a slow burning narrative about taking ownership and fighting back (“We’re the ghosts you can’t erase”). A surprisingly muscular percussion also drives the song along.
There’s a crystal quality to the shimmering ‘After You’, a more personal affair that was conceived after the passing of a friend (“All the moments, all the memories, all the echoes/And sometimes I find I’m driving past your window”).
Meanwhile, ‘Clouds’ is a brooding affair whose lyrical musings focus on coming to terms with whatever is happening in your life. It’s a song that seems to have some similar themes to Austra’s ‘Anywayz’ in accepting that the world continues around you (“The sea stays blue and the sun it keeps on rising again and the waves they roll”).
The more intimate ‘Pearl’ has a stately beauty to it, even in the face of Scattergood’s raw vocal delivery. There’s a more organic foundation to ‘Silk Rose’ (curiously inspired by flowers that decorated houses in Fuerteventura) that rumbles with an earthy, bass-heavy quality.
One of the album’s undoubted highlights is the magnificent ‘The End Was Glorious’, a rousing anthemic outing which makes fine use of Scattergood’s ability to carve a vocal melody out of rock.
The album shifts back to intimacy on the lush melodies of ‘Avalanche’, whose gentle piano tones celebrate a tenderness between two people. It’s also evident on closing track ‘Anchor’, a warm, emotional journey that utilises a lot of sea imagery in its lyrics (“We drown like storms in the sea”) and bookends the album perfectly.
As an album, In This Moment is a delightful collection of songs that invite the listener to slow down and reflect. It presents a stillness of sorts that resonates long after the album has finished. It’s also perhaps a perfect showcase for why Polly Scattergood is one of our national treasures.
The videos for In This Moment also formed the basis for a short film, titled Butterfly, which was intended as a companion piece of sorts to the album in collaboration with Cape Film.
“As I was writing the album, I was aware it was becoming very cinematic” comments Polly on the genesis of the film, “in part due to the soundscapes around some of the tracks. I liked the idea of making a short film that also worked as 5 individual videos, or to continue with the album theme, 5 individual worlds that are linked together by a thread, a ripple, a moment.”
Incorporating the various promo videos shot for the album, the film paints a narrative that incorporates striking visual imagery, but matched with some equally disturbing vignettes.
The central theme of the film asks the viewer whether or not they would make the same decisions again if they could relive key moments in their lives. In this case, focussing on a central character (played with an effectively haunting presence by Katy Clarkson-Hill) across all five chapters soundtracked by the various songs from the album.
The film also employs some stunning visual imagery, including sweeping drone footage of cities, traffic and landscapes. Throughout, there’s also the exploration of the passage of time and the ability to view worlds from above, demonstrated by the constant snowglobe motif.
It’s unusual to shoot a series of promo videos that interlock in this fashion so seamlessly. At the same time, the film as a whole is not always an easy watch and tracks from moments of ugliness to others of beauty. But the hopeful ending offers a sense of optimism and as a whole it’s a powerful narrative.
In This Moment is out now.