Art School Girlfriend (AKA Polly Mackey) has been quietly impressing with sparse electro soundscapes of late. Here, at St Pancras Old Church, her band add live layers to those digital recordings, pointing not only to Mackey’s later discovery of electronic music, but also her first loves: shoegaze, PJ Harvey and many more.
Mackey’s personal, almost confessional, lyricism fits harmoniously with the intimacy of a quaint countryside parish seemingly plonked in the middle of London as if it doesn’t quite belong. The white walls of the Old Church are veiled with a layer of smoke. There’s mood lighting on stage, but apart from that nothing much is that different inside.
Tonight's tracks call up flashbacks of solitary walks down badly-lit city streets in the edgy, small hours, rather than the salvation of a place of worship filled with like-minded people. But like it so often does in music, the juxtaposition works.
In a live setting, Mackey’s vocal becomes harsher and fuller. “Bending Back” and “An Uncomfortable Month” from her Measures EP show off a hushed lower range reminiscent of Bjork at her most intense, while “Distance (Blank)” and closer “Moon” (from her latest EP, Into The Blue Hour) hint at a power close to the aforementioned PJ Harvey, as well as Sharon Van Etten.
Art School Girlfriend is a different proposition in person. Along with her band, she recreates and builds upon her recorded tracks to stunning effect. It’s music to drift away to, whether that's in your bedroom or in a little old church somewhere off the beaten track in central London.