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Woman's Hour are not your average band. The first clue comes in the name of the London-based swoon-pop four-piece, taken from a beloved female-focussed news and culture show on BBC Radio 4. The second is in their graphic, striking monochrome visuals, meticulously curated in collaboration with TATE and MOMA certified fine artists Oliver Chanarin and Adam Broomberg. These play with shape and texture, much like their powerful, iridescent music. On their excellent debut album 'Conversations', this has the intricate construction and intimacy of The xx and the iridescent shimmer of summer-defining indie pop. Pay attention now, or regret it later.
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I’d had Womans Hour down as a whole lot of nothingness, a smartly conceived, immaculately produced slice of nothing. Bland as a bowl of Butterscotch Angel Delight. But last night, as the setting sun glinted through the blinds I found many things to enjoy in this their sleek debut.
Like Wild Beasts and British Sea Power they are from the Cumbrian town of Kendal. A craggy rough and ready place at odds with the glinting 80’s influenced wine bar soul-pop on view here. They have more in common with Wild Beasts but take that groups recent synth heavy workouts kicking and screaming deep, deep into Sade territory. Which is absolutely fine by me. The tracks that work, like those of similarly scrubbed yacht pop 80’s practitioners such as Blue Nile and Prefab Sprout, tend to have great tunes amidst the sophisticated soundscapes. The album falls short only when they forget to add a tune and so you are left with an expensive nothing.
Opener ‘Unbroken Sequence’ is a good example of where they go right, beginning with a rainswept Blue Nile synth pattern, the female vocals are like cut glass, the arrangements understated, synth heavy but with evocative synth much reminiscent of Kate Bush ‘Hounds of Love’ era. Its trump card is its chorus which bursts out of nowhere, beautifully managed. There are plenty of other moments to enjoy, ‘To the End’ is minimal with simple muted electronics under the crestfallen vocals. Again, the track bursts into life hitting ‘Diamond Life’ paydirt in a heart wrenching chorus.
At its best this is great cinematic sweeping pop. You need to give it time, you need to pretend you are in a wine bar in 1986 and you need to accept that it finds it very hard to maintain the quality of the first few tracks and it does bland out towards that nothingness I mentioned earlier as the momentum drifts away.
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