Listening to her new album Pity Party, it becomes apparent almost immediately that Liz Lawrence’s slot supporting Lucy Dacus earlier in the year was somewhat deceptive. Performing solo and accompanied by programmed backing tracks, it was the incisive guitar grooves and sinewy vocals that stick in the memory. It was a wonderful introduction to this artist from London but her new record is quite a different proposition. The reason for this deception on record is Lawrence’s predilection for the unexpected, as expansive synth soundscapes jostle for space amidst more introspective lo-fi affairs.
Album opener ‘Love Came Looking’ acts more as a subtle overture in the form of the latter genre, creating a brooding atmosphere before the wonderful musicality of ‘But Love’. There’s gentle pop themes on offer here that appear a million miles from the gothic tones experienced live in Manchester. When the sweeping guitar and subtle string motifs draw the song towards its conclusion, there’s even a Coldplay-inspired sense of the epic on show.
‘Navigator’ is the natural single on the record. A jaunty rhythm, colloquial wordplay and a clap-a-long chorus to die for make this the most memorable track from the record, but there is certainly more complex offerings to come and ‘None of My Friends’ pummelling basslines, distorted analogue interludes and evocative synth tones suggest darker subject matter along with more explicit reference to Lawrence’s eighties influences. The marvellous ‘USP’ reinforces her penchant for the unexpected by throwing a britpop aesthetic into the mix.
These new songs are enhanced by incredibly rich vocals; there is also sense of absolute control on display; perhaps this is what differed in the live performance which felt much more unruly. The result of this is beguiling though, never more so than on the stripped-back ‘Shoes’ which is a heartfelt bout of introspection accompanied by a lone guitar. The contrast is jarring and over way too soon before ‘Want’ takes us back to the 90s. Here, the references begin to feel just a touch stale but thankfully ‘Life Again’ restores Liz Lawrence’s knack for a melody along with some visually satisfying songwriting and ‘What People Do’ maintains this. In some ways this is very typical English fare and the electronic embellishments contribute to this impression. This approach connects her new record to time spent in the synth duo Cash + David and this is never more evident than the wonderfully sweeping and metronomic ’10 Breaths’, where the combination of guitar and synth soundscapes compliment each other perfectly and it is during these moments when Liz Lawrence’s vocals really hit that sweet spot.
As a result, ‘Rivers’ feels like a bit of an anti-climax. There’s a sense of Lawrence trying to combine the emotional intensity of Future Islands with other, more personal musical influences and the impact is less impressive. Overall though, Liz Lawrence’s predilection for the unexpected makes her new record a real pleasure to listen to.