Ecstatic Arrow is a confident expansion of the dreampop sound cultivated on previous albums Tomorrow’s Gift and Forward Constant Motion.
One of the most satisfying developments is the foregrounding of Alice Merida Richards’ vocals, which gain a newfound clarity; equal parts clipped and inviting. The record’s polyrhythms and sporadic saxophone breaks are reminiscent of Magazine or The Pop Group, but when married with the group’s trademark cocoon-like synths, they add up to an esoteric, endearing identity all of their own, equal parts spikiness and warmth.
This musical polarity is reflected in the lyrics, which express how women’s insatiable yearning for knowledge and experience can be inhibited by internal and (often misogynist) external pressures. The cyclical electronics of “Relativity” are matched with a lyrical ambition that stretches deep into the universe: “I want to know every thought/Every cause and emotion/I want to know where it ends/And begins”. On “The Female Genius”, this ambition is met with a combination of self-doubt and weary resignation to bend to society’s expectations: “I’m always waiting to be told/Follow instruction disguised as suggestion/I’m always ready I’m not always willing”. This frustration is also present in lead single “The Second Shift” - described by the group as being “about society’s tendency to diminish and undermine women’s contributions to… everything”. The song’s rich imagery (“I know the key/It's written in my own body/From her to you and you to me”) expresses how intrinsic this diminishment is, but also proposes a connection and a kinship. Ecstatic Arrow is frank in its representation of the struggles of women creators, but balances its anger with miraculous joy.