“I think it’s my turn,” cries Mary Epworth on the opening track of her second album Elytral, as a roomful of processed instruments crash around her.
The deepest, darkest, fuzziest bassline rubs against screeching guitars, tambourines and synths. “Now I’ve gone rogue,” she warns, before a saxophone spits the urgency and nausea of free jazz over any pretense of normality.
Elytral is rarely a passive listen: Epworth’s maximalist approach means that every song throws up at least one surprising moment. Even the more pop-leaning tracks have uneasy elements: Lead single “Me Swimming” settles into a repetitive beats-and-bass groove, but Epworth’s teeth-edge delivery of the manic, pitch-altered vocals constantly threatens to rip it all apart. Epworth’s astonishing ability to adapt her (often heavily treated) voice for a huge range of vocal styles – from a straightforward clear melody to a sinister whispered chant – is crucial to the record’s mood of anxiety and flux.
The lyrical imagery adds to the sense of dread. A skeletal description of a nightmare in “Last Night” is punctuated by Epworth’s ominous repetition of “what were those lights?” a trick that feels borrowed from a horror film like Mulholland Drive or Rosemary’s Baby: Using minimal detail to root the terror in the listener’s imagination. The song then drops into a black hole of processed beats and synths, like a dress rehearsal for an imprecise catastrophe.
On the most straightforwardly introspective track, “Lost Everything”, Epworth laments, “how much more there is to lose/when you’ve lost everything?” Elytral is the sound of an artist frustrated but ultimately emboldened by threat, risking everything in the face of constant uncertainty.