Review: Polly Scattergood – Polly Scattergood

Sometimes we stumble on bands in a truly half-assed way that end up having a profound impact on us. Were it not for a cell phone commercial I would never have discovered the enjoyable Teddybears STHLM; were it not for a chance happening upon an episode of Late Night With Conan O’Brien I would never have been introduced to a then-new and emerging band called The Decemberists; and if I hadn’t been browsing the Mute Records website and coming across an artist in the long “artists”‘ section I had never heard of some two years ago, I would never have had the pleasure of Polly Scattergood’s delightful new self-titled album.

She had just been signed at the time and her MySpace page had demo tracks that led one to assume that Scattergood would be another in a long line of piano balladeers in the Tori Amos vein. It was lovely stuff and enough to keep me following her ever since waiting for her first recorded material, but nothing I anticipated being all that “special”, up to and including my getting my hands on her (as yet UK-only released) debut.

I would prove to be wrong in adhering to such a belief.

Scattergood’s ten-track disc is a remarkable achievement that already ranks as among the best albums of the year. With acoustic and electronic elements, it’s a successful attempt at a hybrid (though the electronics feel surprisingly like the dominant mood-setter throughout most of the tracks).

Wholly original this album is extraordinarily difficult to label. At times ambient folk, at times guitar pop, and at times pure electronica, all juxtaposed with Scattergood’s slightly-less-than-pretty, often challenging, but utterly compelling voice. Not a dud track in the bunch, there are standouts tucked away in every corner. “Please Don’t Touch” is a propulsive pop track fueled by perfectly used electro flourishes, “Bunny Club”, about a matter-of-fact prostitute, may be the most original electronic song released thus far in 2009, “Breathe In, Breathe Out” is a touching piano ballad where she nearly break into tears accounting for a soon-to-be-former relationship (something that actually seems to happen toward the end of the heartbreaking “Poem Song” where she sounds eerily like Bjork); the best tracks are “Untitled 27”, a lamentation of a former relationship either due to flight (or possibly death), and the most straightforward “ordinary” song on the album, “Unforgiving Arms” which blends rock-pop with electronics so effortlessly you’d think she’d been doing this for many years instead of this being her first kick at the can.

“Good” doesn’t describe this album. It doesn’t capture the raw power and emotion of Scattergood’s voice or the swirling imagination that went into the production, or the oft-bizarre lyrical choices that make you rewind for a second listen to make sure you heard what you just heard. Good doesn’t do it justice…

It’s nothing short of a wonder.

Watch Polly Scattergood – Never Too Endless

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