This review originally appeared on The Arts Desk.
If you haven’t fallen for Emma Pollock by the end of the first two songs on In Search of Harperfield – you know, on the off chance that you have somehow been immune to the first lady of Scottish indie over the past 20 years – then there’s probably no help for you. In just two songs, Pollock perfectly showcases her dynamic talent: there’s the dreamy, ghostly “Cannot Keep a Secret”, as immersive a song ever written to fit Pollock’s husky, beguiling voice; and “Don’t Make Me Wait”, a catchy rocker that’s as insistent as its name.
Five and a half years since 2010’s The Law of Large Numbers and released almost 20 years to the day since the birth of Chemikal Underground – the Glasgow-based indie recording powerhouse that Pollock co-founded with former band The Delgados – In Search of Harperfield is both an immensely personal album and an immediate, all-embracing collection of really, really likeable songs. Lead single “Parks and Recreation” is all tumble and trouble with a riff to match, inspired by outdoor childhood turf wars, while the low-key, lo-fi “Old Ghosts” concludes the album with a letter from Pollock to her younger self.
The album’s central thread, as captured in both its title (it’s named for the first house bought by Pollock’s parents after they married) and in some of its most compelling songs, is these memories – and of making sense of them after their anchors have become unstuck. “Intermission” is a song I’ve heard live a couple of times but one which never loses its potency: the exhaustion and otherworldliness of late-night hospital visits captured in minor strings and cello; the lyrics desperate and draining; “don’t go now you’ll miss the best bit” catching in my throat every time. “Dark Skies” is another old favourite: written originally for collaborative arts project Whatever Gets You Through the Night, it sounds like the delicate, finger-picked musings of 4am until it drowns you in its orchestral swell.
Emma Pollock plays an album launch show at the Oran Mor TONIGHT as part of Celtic Connections – book tickets online.