Astrid Williamson has produced a steady stream of solo albums since 1998’s Boy For You' without major recognition, although she possesses a quite exceptional voice and writes really good songs. 'Pulse' is something of a bold change of musical direction, so will it bring a change of fortunes too?
Williamson has a beautiful voice - as good as any female singer you can think of – and has teamed up for this new album with ambient/pop wunderkind Leo Abrahams. He has worked with simply heaps of people, starting with Imogen Heap, as guitarist, producer, writer, and arranger. He has a long association with Ed Harcourt, collaborates regularly with Brian Eno and was deeply involved with Carl Barat’s eponymously titled debut album – but nobody’s perfect I guess.
Williamson has said that on this album she wanted her voice to be the centre of the record, and it certainly is. Around it she has wrapped textures, most successfully when with an electro bias, replacing the more straightforward arrangements of her previous albums. So instead of a kick drum track, there are percussive sounds and effects - and what you lose in impetus you gain in atmospherics.
When it works well it’s really good as on opener 'Dance' and leadoff single 'Pour', featured in our best of the August singles column, and the album’s first five songs – concluding with the uplifting 'Miracle' - are all strong. The second half of the album goes further into ambient territory, and can become a bit unrelenting, as the songs merge one into another emotionally – summed up by the evident hurt of closer 'Paperbacks' - as much as musically.
I’ve been playing this album in rotation with Chimaira’s new release, 'The Age Of Hell', surprisingly given away free with this month’s Metal Hammer. Now you might think that these albums are poles apart and in many respects of course they are – but they do share a commitment to creating a distinctive sonic landscape, uncompromising even, for which you need to be in the right frame of mind.
If you are inclined to listen to albums in their entirety, which admittedly is not so relevant today, then 'Pulse' feels a bit underpowered. If, on the other hand, you cherry pick, then there are more than enough standouts to be welcome on any playlist. Either way, it’s a brave record by a talented artist with something to say which, as ever, I applaud. Although if you’ve just ended a cherished relationship I wouldn’t suggest you plan a night in around it.
'Pulse' is available to purchase from iTunes, Amazon.co.uk etc. Check astridwilliamson.net" for more details.