UK pop quartet Woman’s Hour have courageously entered waters teeming with the threat of pollution. In an over-massed electropop market saturated with languid synth bands, the group runs the risk of turning out a heavy-lidded delivery that drips of unoriginality — say, another rehash of songs from predecessors like the XX or Beach House.
It’s easy to dismiss the group and their debut album, Conversations, by classification alone, particularly as the genre seemingly infiltrates every mainstream pop release. But the first few minutes of the album’s opening track, “Unbroken Sequence”, should dispel some of that skepticism. Ushered in by papery, oscillating synths and downtempo percussive beats, frontwoman Fiona Jane Burgess tenderly implores, “If I stop and cease to exist, would it be better for you?” Unabashed heartbreak bleeds through Burgess’s voice, and that shadowy, lovelorn sentiment colors much of Conversations. And yet, while the gamble of running into yet another cliché by thematically clinging to heartbreak lies in the balance, the group again subverts that platitude by delivering the songs with a raw authenticity.
Tracks like the sinewy “Her Ghost” make clear that the desolation plaguing many of the songs is rooted in a fragile purity. Propelled by wistful longing, Burgess sings, “I’ve got nothing to say to her ghost, hoping she’ll fade away,” earnestly bemoaning the torment of letting go. There’s an anguish that pours through her haunting vocals, which are layered over idyllic, pastoral keyboards. It’s as if to say the group is attempting to scrub the pain of heartache by contrasting the agony with romanticism.
At some points, Conversations wrestles with a sense of divergence, in effect creating some confusion in what they’re trying to achieve. “The Day That Needs Defending” seems to waver over awkward laser-like keyboards while Burgess erupts in a saccharine explosion of vocals. It’s somewhat of a misfit among the rest of the album, but it has the potential to resonate as a standalone track.
What sets Woman’s Hour apart from their emerging electropop counterparts is the masterful execution of their songwriting and production. There’s a dark, arcadian resonance around the songs that enforces empathy, even outright cheering for the group. The journey is incredibly easy to become emotionally invested in. For the most part, there is a stalwart consistency that interweaves through the tracks, Conversations feeling like the outcome of a thoughtful and heartfelt dialogue. And perhaps it’s this narrative that inspires the album title — giving wearied electropop fans renewed inspiration and involvement in the conversation.
Essential Tracks: “Conversations”, “Darkest Days”