Lonelady - Nerve Up

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2010-02-22

There's a sense of urgency to this debut long-player by Lonelady aka Manchester's Julie Campbell; a twitchy, restless, caffeinated surfeit of energy which stalks the narrow musical passageway she's created as if searching for some meaningful release. However, the sound palette Lonelady uses is minimal to the point of Stalinism: itchy, agitated guitar; hissing, popping drums; the occasional eerie organ drone. The constantly taunt muscular framework never relaxes, even on the quieter numbers, and so the music's energy eventually folds back in on itself, becoming frustrated but never quite exhausted.

This teeth-grinding, speed-freak intensity is present on many of the songs on the appropriately named Nerve Up, but don't get confused. It's actually a very pop body of work. Beneath the obvious influences - early Talking Heads, early Siouxsie and the Banshees, PJ Harvey, Prince - lie another, slightly less hip, set of references: the fizzy party indie of Altered Images, for example, or the chime'n'swoon of early REM. 'Immaterial' could so easily find a place of either Murmur or Reckoning, its amiable strum and repeating guitar figure providing one of the few instances where you don't feel Lonelady has spent the whole night sitting up smoking and chewing her fingernails. There's even a bit of early Madonna to be found: opening track 'If Not Now' throws in a twinkling keyboard motif straight off Madge's early hit 'Borderline'.

However, it's the album's darker, spikier moments that draw you back for repeated listens. Recent single 'Intuition' is a perfect streamlining of new wave guitar and vocal ticks into something quite unique. Lonelady wrings the optimum amount of tension out of her sparse dynamics here; her declamatory guitar style, one moment parched and sandpapery, the next echo-drenched, owes a distinct debt to the mercurial early work of U2's The Edge - another not-so-cool reference that works perfectly when added to the mix here. Meanwhile, the title track is propelled forward on nothing more than a skeletal funky guitar figure, Lonelady's percussive vocals, a series of synth handclaps and some 80s-style bleeps, clicks and whooshes. The only way it could get more Prince is if Lonelady decided to perform it in a flasher's mac and and change its name to 'Purple Nerve Up'.

These two tracks are the best examples of much of the music on Nerve Up, where most songs are variations on the same theme: 'Early the Haste Comes' is punky and choppy next to 'Marble's more ambient, moody atmospherics. 'Cattletears' is strident and discordant, fitting well with the lyric's military imagery. Only penultimate song 'Army' fails to find a new angle in the same formula, it's charging, galloping sound feeling off-the-peg and uninspired.

But no matter - last track 'Fear No More' sees Lonelady stake out some interesting new ground in the album's closing moments. A bereft, haunted blues ballad, it's dusty, arcane feel, complete with fiddle and ghostly harmonies, is like PJ Harvey putting her own spin on Prince's 'Nothing Compares 2 U'. Having made the late 70s/early 80s new wave dynamic her bitch for much of Nerve Up, this song indicates the direction Lonelady could move towards next.

Richard Morris

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