Release Date: Sep 1, 2017
Record label: PIAS
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The title is an immediate curiosity. ‘Elytral’ refers to the ‘modified, hardened forewing of certain insect orders, notably beetles’ – and is the moniker under which Mary Epworth’s second album sits. She may have chosen the word for its sound and appearance on the page, but a more likely answer is naming an album in homage to one of the most durable insect forms on earth. Durability is a quality Epworth shows throughout, and this follow-up to 2012’s Dream Life also keeps her penchant for the unexpected, with music that often changes direction mid-song..
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.
For the time being anyway, Mary Epworth appears intent on avoiding cliches and allowing herself every opportunity to pursue her muse, whatever form it may take. Five years on from her critically acclaimed debut album, the wisely dubbed Dream Life, she harbors an absolute air of mystery that carefully conceals any strict clarity of direction and whatever easy branding the critics may be prone to give her. While that initial album garnered press raves, the anticipation for a follow-up was mooted by her decision to delay its successor while contemplating her next move.
D aunted by writing the follow-up to her feted 2012 psych-pop debut Dream Life, Mary Epworth (sister to producer Paul) decided to set herself free to play without limits. The result is starkly different, a more austere, violent electronic soundworld, opening with the dark, low-synth arpeggios of Gone Rogue, punctuated by outbursts of raw sax. Beyond the poppy bounce of Stereolab-ish lead single Me Swimming and the romping, krautrocky pulse of Burned It Down, Elytral lacks the sort of direction or structure that linger in the mind, but has a delightful exploratory freedom, as seen in the sweet, warm analogue ambience of Surprise Yourself: .
On 2012’s debut, Dream Life, Mary Epworth tapped into a fertile tension between ornate, flowers-in-the-hair folk and prog-slanted seams of darker psych-folk. For her follow-up, the latter instincts are ushered forwards, albeit at some cost to her melodic focus. Epworth’s ambitions are clearly delineated, notably in her lyrics’ romantic attraction to wild nature. Watching The Sun Go Down declares an impulse to “hurry to the ocean roar”, continued in One Big Wave: “Don’t you feel it calling you?” That call of the wild reverberates in Gone Rogue’s choppy churn of synths and sax, and in former Medicine noise-pop avatar Brad Laner’s squalling synth contributions to the spooked sky-watching of Last Night..