Friday, 30 May 2014

Twice Is Nice

Hollie Cook began her musical career as the teenage keyboardist in the final incarnation of legendary punk y reggae band The Slits. While this isn’t always obvious in her solo career, what is clear is that Cook shares with the late Ari Up a love of reggae and dancehall.

A sophisticated and assured piece of work, Cook’s second album Twice manages to weave a complex combination of instrumentation around a central sound and mood that is both vivid and highly atmospheric. While her debut album was almost girl next door London lovers rock, Twice is dancehall as art form and lovers rock as filmic soundtrack.

Cook’s debut self titled album was dedicated to the Slits frontwoman, and Twice opens with ‘Ari Up’, an atmospheric slice of ska which begins as a hymn like eulogy with its proclamation ‘Come, let her fire blaze on’. Of all the tributes written to Ari Up, this salute from protégée to mentor is surely the sweetest.
The slow tracks such as ‘99’, the single ‘Looking for real love’ and album teaser ‘Twice’ mix strings with loping bass, brooding tension and sweetly sad vocals, with ‘99’ and ‘Looking for real love’ reflecting a shift in mood from earlier post break up song ‘That Very Night’.  

By contrast, ‘Desdemona’, ‘Tiger Balm’ and ‘Superfast’ are playful ska infused high quality pop songs whereas ‘Win or Lose’ features harmonised layered vocals over a loping bass line. It manages to be spacey and brooding while remaining sparkling.
Of the up tempo pieces, ‘Postman’ is a particularly good track. It begins enigmatically with a disembodied voice saying, soothingly, ‘You are awakened by sun in the distance’ against a delicate riffle of steel drums and strings. The use of steel drums alongside the ska bass and strings makes this it very danceable to, not to mention a good choice for a future single. It is crowned in its perfection by a particularly delightful drum roll at the end.

But the standout track has to be the title song, ‘Twice’.  A gorgeous slow burner, the delicately mournful strings and slow brooding groove combine with the slow, seductive vocals to build an atmosphere of evening sultry heat. ‘I try everything once,’ purrs Cook, ‘twice if I like it.’

This is a grower that rewards with repeated listens, and builds on the impressive experimentation established by the spacey, dubby ‘Sugar Water’ on Cook’s debut album.  ‘Twice’ is perhaps the most experimental and textured piece on the album and, while it is complex in structure; it still feels spacious rather than crowded by orchestral swirls and occasional guitar fuzz.
Sophisticated and atmospheric, with a central cohesion and mood, Twice is an accomplished album by an artist still testing her wings in many ways. Having yielded at least two possible contenders for song of the year, the album is in a strong position for album of the year.

Twice is out now on Mr Bongo.