Woman’s Hour


Arc lights pick out silhouettes as Woman’s Hour take the stage, pick out the edges of the pyramids that front the album, angular, scattered around the stage, pick out the softer edges of Fiona James, who fronts the band. It’s a look that mirrors the pared back, silhouette sound of Conversations, an artful monochrome which finds siblings in the music of The XX, Jessie Ware, and their other sparse bedfellows. To reduce Woman’s Hour to a ‘sounds like’ however, would be a disservice to the three years spent carefully distilling their 2011 E.P. And he result is a poised, dreamy sound, punctured by a distinctive groove.

Fiona’s vocals take centre stage on the album, all sincerity and heartfelt passion, and live she is very much the main event. The arc lights pulse in time with the music, her shadow fading in and out as she shadowboxes; throwing illegal punches and leading with the elbow on opener ‘Unbroken Sequence’. Spaced out synth builds quietly, easing the swaying crowd into the beat and she provides the stage presence, angular and flowing in equal measure. The rest of the band go about their work with a still precision, except the synth player, who swings his torso to and fro in that fit-like manner synth players do; restricted by the desk and the hands glued to buttons.

Live the music has the same inch perfect purity as on record; every track has the fat trimmed away, and the music as a result is in its purest form. The band has a synchronicity that means they almost function as one body, again with James as the head, lithely conducting proceedings, body popping, ever in time on ‘Devotion’ and feeling every note. Four hand claps sound as one to introduce ‘Her Ghost’ and Whenever the vocal soars and she holds that note, she moves in slow motion, before calling the band in, moving in time, and shadowboxing again. The slight Cumbrian twang is present throughout but rings clearest on ‘Darkest Place’, and the use of their native accent, combined with the love-letter lyrics gives the vocal a touching personal quality that wouldn’t be present in a sing-song quasi American drawl.

Those soft vowels and rounded ‘U’s are equally present on a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In the Dark’ where an American drawl could be forgiven, and it comes as something of a surprise coming in at half-speed and transforming the 80s rock classic into something sensual, sinuous, and dreamlike. Curved, refracted fronds of light coat the mass of pyramids as the set reaches its climax; standout ‘Our Love Has No Rhythm’ takes your breath away from its first bars as synth fades in, lone vocal soars to sing alone briefly before the band return to woo you again. For final track ‘Day That Needs Defending’ James raises her arm high and brings it down to call in the triumphant band, for a rousing, heartwarming close. The Deaf Institute joins them in their final lovelorn plea and, standing just under his lapels, I notice it’s the first time the bassist cracks a smile.

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John Platt

John was raised between Mum's Motown and Dad's Hawkwind, and likes words almost as much as music. Below are some carefully chosen words about some music John particularly likes.