Album Review: Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield
Posted by Mark Shields
Emma Pollock returns after a break with In Search of Harperfield, her third solo studio album and second on the label she helped found as key member of The Delgados. Chemikal Underground are as influential as local labels can get, breeding a certain type of band and artistry from within the central belt and surrounding postcodes. Pollock’s last album in 2010, The Law of Large Numbers saw her shedding The Delgados-ish template of her solo debut, and expanding into darker themes and more complicated instrumentation. In the gap between that and this album she hasn’t been quiet, turning in a revelation on the Scottish Album of the Year Award winning Thirteen Lost and Found, marshalled by RM Hubbert, with Half Light being a rather disconcerting highlight on that album. Hubby returns the favour on …Harperfield, with his trademark fret-work lifting Monster in the Pack out as a late-album highlight. Her third album sees her continue to change style and work her songwriting into new areas,
…Harperfield swings from different styles like a whirlwind tour of influences, not settling down at any point, mimicking the wild search referenced in the title. It gives a disorientating feeling at first, one that recedes with time and return listening, which is when the structure of the album reveals it’s self as a master class in songwriting. Pollock’s songwriting establishes her as one of the talents Scotland should not take for granted, and certainly on …Harperfield her craft appears to have never been stronger. The single Parks and Recreation feels the most Delgados like track on the album, which is why it sticks out a bit and doesn’t quite land as well as you’d hope from the rest of the tracks on the album.
There is expert disassembly of the standard rock structures here, as you’d expect. Vacant Stare is a smartly percussive song, followed by the subtly different In the Company of the Damned – “and we’re wondering “is this really all you’ve got?” / as you barter with your fists and leave us taking all the risks” – gives the tale of a darker story that reminds me a lot of Joni Mitchell in it’s vocal style, almost conversational style that make’s Mitchell’s best work so fluid and fun to listen to again and again. Pollock also touches on Kate Bush too with the clear standout Alabaster, a wickedly left-turn after the more classical Pollock Don’t Make Me Wait. If I was to recommend just one track from …Haperfield, Alabaster would be it – a wonderfully odd melody and structured track, with fairy tale lyrics. “Like king and queen we ruled it all, stuck it out through rise and fall.”
Of course I was a fan of The Delgados. I remember being given the single American Trilogy by a friend at high school, and it felt like a revelation – a Scottish band doing stuff that wasn’t in the charts. This was, of course, around sixteen years ago, in a time it was harder to find new music that wasn’t gifted to you by the internet. The voice of Emma Pollock stayed with me ever since, and I’ve grown to adore the back catalogue of the group over time. However, …Haperfield is easily one of the most assured albums she’s released and reveals new angles with every listen.
It’s a great album, a great journey, and an assured set of songs from one of Scotland’s most unique voices and lead songwriters. …Harperfield is named for the house her parents bought as a young couple, and what that means to Pollock is unknown, but it seems like the journey to find it is captivating. This comes highly recommended.
Emma Pollock – In Search of Harperfield is out now via Chemikal Underground and can be purchased here.