Some things, as the old adage puts it, are worth waiting for. It seems a long time ago that Peggy Sue And The Pirates first started to gain a name for themselves – being namechecked by Kate Nash in seemingly every interview, supporting the likes of Laura Marling and The Maccabees and releasing a string of well received EPs. And then….nothing.
Until now, that is. Nearly four years after their debut EP, with a shortening of their name and the addition of drummer Olly Joyce, comes Fossils And Other Phantoms. And, unlike other acts where such a delay may have resulted in a fatal loss of momentum, it seems as if Peggy Sue may have timed their reappearance just right.
For back in 2007, there was a danger that the Brighton-based trio could have sunk without trace amongst the sheer number of quirky female-fronted acts around. In 2010 though, there’s a healthy resurgence in British folk – headed by the likes of Mumford & Sons and the aforementioned Laura Marling, and it’s here that Peggy Sue sound right at home.
Even so, there’s no Mumford-style bluegrass hoedowns here, or even the more intimate whisper of a Marling record. Fossils And Other Phantoms is a beautifully crafted, haunting and atmospheric listen that casts its spell ever deeper with each listen.
Key to the album’s success is the vocal interplay between Rosa Rex and Katy Klaw. Both women have wonderfully distinct voices – one deep and smokey, the other soft and wistful – and they swap lines and harmonise as expertedly as you’d expect, given their length of time playing together.
Their sound is akin to bar-room folky blues – from the swaggering opener of Long Division Blues, through the delicate plucked acoustics of Green Grow The Rushes right up to the wistful, hypnotic The Shape We Make. The one thing that threads through all of these songs is the lyrical subject of heartbreak and damaged relationships.
It’s a subject best explored on the superb Yo Mama, which starts off by promising that “I’m going to go downtown and get myself some fun”, but soon unravels into something far less sassy and more fragile: “I’m praying to Gods I don’t believe, saying please won’t you bring her back to me” runs the closing refrain.
A similar motif runs through She Called, with its wistful cry of “I have a love that will linger until I learn to doubt it” while the closing The Shape We Make mourns the loss of spooning with an ex (“I miss the shape we used to make, I miss your breath I used to take”) to heartbreaking effect.
There’s nods to Cat Power, CocoRosie and early PJ Harvey throughout the album, while highlight Careless Talk Costs Lives could almost be a Jeffrey Lewis out-take with its urgent guitar line and breathless vocals. These influences never overwhelm the album however – there’s never any sense of the band’s own personality being overshadowed.
Unusually for a debut album, there’s not a dud track here, and even the less immediate tracks such as February Snow work their way into your brain after a few plays. It’s been a long time coming, but with Fossils And Other Phantoms, Peggy Sue have made one of the year’s most confident debuts.