Anyone familiar with the work of Liverpool born, Newcastle based folk singer Kathryn Williams over the course of her now 13+ year career will be surprised and, no doubt, pleased upon hearing the first fruits of her new musical project. The Pond are Williams together with Simon Edwards (formerly of Fairground Attraction) and English singer songwriter Ginny Clee. Together the trio have created a beguiling album that represents a significant progression for Williams out of the folk singer-songwriter pigeonhole that she was increasingly stuck in.
All the hallmarks of Williams’ sound remain, yet with The Pond her immaculately crafted songs and whispered sensual vocals are set against airily floating melodies, understated beats and hypnotic rhythms. You could even say that some of the tracks are funky, albeit in a restrained wispy sense, yet funky nonetheless. Funky is not a word that could ever reasonably apply to Williams’ previous work.
Opening track Carved is a good introduction to The Pond’s sound. An intricate folksy guitar figure accompanies a repetitive shuffling melody, with Williams’ vocal sounding as sultry as ever as she delivers the repeated line, “Carve my love on a stone”. There is a subtle sense of menace present here that the group frequently return to throughout the album. The single Circle Round A Tree and Pass Us By offer more familiar fare, but the lovely languid melodies are utterly gorgeous.
Where The Pond truly excels however is when they allow their more adventurous sonic tendencies to come to the fore. The presence of Portishead‘s Adrian Utley on mixing duties has perhaps helped Williams and her bandmates to embrace some more progressive and interesting sounds, and The River is perhaps the most striking example of Williams’ newfound sense of sonic adventure. A wonderful eastern influenced fidgety melody builds from primitive beginnings to a stirring crescendo.
The album delves ever deeper into darker territory as it progresses, namely on the doleful piano march of Memory Let Down and on End Of The Pier with its oblique lyrical utterances that “You know you’re somewhere different when the water tastes different in your mouth.” The music here is full of portent and foreboding, accompanied by a deathly eerie organ with Williams’ vocal reduced to a hushed whisper. It is a hugely impressive and atmospheric piece of music.
Some of the ideas do not completely come off, but there is much to admire in their ambition nevertheless. Bebop represents a slight curveball and its country twang pastiche of classic rock and roll accompanied by a rap by Kirsch falls ever so slightly flat. Fortunately, this is the only moment when the quality really drops.
Evening Star is the most strikingly different piece here. It could almost be a drum and bass record in different hands, and the juxtaposition of Williams’ lullaby-like vocals over the top of the skittering beats is particularly effective. Even better is the album’s closing track Aim. Coming across like an even more seductive and soulful Massive Attack, the song airily floats to its finish, a perfectly fitting mesmerising way to end the album. Its vocal hook of “Aim Higher” is apposite; this album is the sound of Williams daring to do something that little bit different.
By the time an artist gets to their ninth album they are generally set in their ways and content to just travel along doing their own thing. Kathryn Williams is clearly no longer happy to solely plough her own artistic furrow to an appreciative cult audience. Her debut with The Pond is a commendably excellent example of an established artist making a real step forward.